Adults in the United States are evenly split on whether a business providing wedding services should be able to refuse service to same-sex couples due to the business owner’s religious beliefs, per a survey by the Pew Research Center, a non-partisan fact-tank.
Christians’ views ranged widely, with only 10% of white Evangelical Christians who attend church weekly saying the business should be required to provide service to same-sex couples just like other couples, while 54% of Catholics, 46% of black Protestant Christians, and 42% of white mainline Christians would require such service, for example.
But that is not the main point of this post. Pew also asked those who responded if they sympathize at all with people who have a different opinion on the issue.
A small minority of Christians expressed sympathy for people on both sides of the issue, such as both the same-sex couple and the business owner.
The vast majority expressed sympathy only for people with whom they agreed on the issue.
Only 14% of white Evangelical Christians sympathized with people on both sides—the rest of them sympathized only with those who have the same opinion (74%) or with neither side (12%).
This suggests a disturbing lack of sympathy from Christians generally and, for those who believe that homosexual activity is sinful, raises doubt about their actually carrying out the second half of the often-heard mantra “hate the sin, love the sinner.”
U.S. Evenly Split, Age Matters
Half of U.S. adults say businesses that provide weddings services—such as florists, bakeries, and photographers—should be able to discriminate against homosexual people and to refuse service to them if the business owner has a religious objection to homosexuality (48%).
The other half say such businesses should be required to provide services to same-sex couples just like they would opposite-sex couples (49%). The full sample had a margin of error of +/- 2.4%.
Age makes a big difference, as 59% of those 18-29 would not allow such discrimination, compared to 42% of those 65 and older.
Views on Morality Do Not Necessarily Control Views on Discrimination
A person’s view of the morality of homosexuality often does not dictate their view regarding requiring businesses to serve homosexual people.
In the U.S., about 35% of adults believe homosexual behavior is morally wrong, but 22% of that 35% would still require wedding businesses to provide services to same-sex couples.
In other words, about 1 in every 5 people who find the couple’s behavior morally wrong would still prohibit discrimination against the couple.
About 62% of adults believe homosexual behavior is morally acceptable, but 35% of that 62% would still allow wedding businesses to refuse service to same-sex couples if the business owner has a religious objection.
In other words, about 1 in every 3 people who find the couple’s behavior morally acceptable would still allow discrimination against the couple in light of the business owner’s religious view.
These results suggest a small-but-meaningful anti-discrimination group among those who view homosexual behavior as immoral, and a substantial commercial- or religious-libertarian group among those who do not.
Big Shift in Christians’ Opinion Regarding Homosexuality
There has been a significant change in the opinion of U.S. Christians regarding homosexuality, according to a separate Pew survey.
In 2014, 54% of U.S. Christians said homosexuality should be accepted by society, rather than discouraged. Only 44% did in 2007.
Denominations considered very conservative saw enormous change. The percentage of their members who said homosexuality should be accepted, rather than discouraged, increased nearly 40% in just seven years (from 26% to 36%).
This significant change likely has some impact on Christians’ views regarding prohibiting discrimination against same-sex couples.
In 2016, about 54% of Catholics said they believe that wedding businesses should be required to provide services to same-sex couples.
About 36% of Protestants (white and black) agreed, but this percentage is heavily influenced downward by the white evangelical numbers.
White Evangelicals Differ Significantly From Other Christian Groups
Only 22% of white Evangelical Christians—e.g., generally those associated with Southern Baptist Convention churches, Churches of Christ, etc.—believe that discrimination against same-sex couples should be prohibited. That is, only about 1 in 5 white evangelicals believe a wedding business should be required to provide service to same-sex couples, just like opposite-sex couples, when the business owner has a religious objection to homosexuality.
Of all the groups identified in the survey, this 22% is by far the lowest percentage opposed to such discrimination.
It is approximately half the percentage of black Protestant Christians (46%) who believe that such discrimination should be prohibited.
It is also approximately half the percentage of white mainline Christians— e.g., generally those associated with United Methodist churches, Presbyterian Church (USA), Evangelical Lutheran churches, etc.—who have such a belief (42%).
The percentage of U.S. Jews with such a belief (64%) is triple that of white evangelicals.
Only 10% of white evangelicals who say they attend religious services weekly or more would require wedding businesses to serve same-sex couples, while 36% of white evangelicals who attend less often than weekly would so require. This likely relates partially, but not completely, to age, but the survey did not specify.
Disturbing Lack of Sympathy
One of the more disturbing statistics reported by Pew was that only 14% of white evangelical Christians sympathized at least some with people on both sides of the issue.
This was exactly the same as the percentage of religiously unaffiliated people (atheists, agnostics, nones, etc.) who sympathized at least some with people on both sides.
These two groups—white evangelicals and the religiously unaffiliated—tied for the lowest rate of sympathy for both sides among all the groups identified in the survey.
Other types of Christians showed more sympathy. For example, about twice as many Catholics (26%) said they sympathize with people on both sides. Although about double the rate of white evangelicals, this still seems low. The question was worded in a manner expressive of a compassion-for sympathy, rather than an in-agreement-with sympathy.
It is surprising that more Christians did not sympathize at least some both with a couple who say they love each other and want to get married (and those who do not want to see them discriminated against) and with a business owner who sincerely believes that what he or she is being asked to do is wrong in God’s sight (and those who do not want to see them forced to violate their conscience).
Christians on both sides of this issue should pause on the disparity between having no sympathy at all for people on the other side of this issue and having love for one’s neighbor—including homosexual people, business owners, and people who view things differently—, as Christ asked of all of us.
Hate the Sinner?
“Hate the sin, love the sinner” is a mantra common among many white evangelicals and others, sometimes used in defending against accusations of bigotry or of not following Christ’s teachings on love, grace, and judging others.
Even setting aside the debate over whether homosexual activity is a sin, particularly within a marriage, the survey raises doubts about the mantra’s actual implementation by many of those who recite it.
The lack of sympathy for the “other side” revealed by the survey suggests that the love part of “hate the sin, love the sinner” is simply something said, and not something actually done, in this respect by the vast majority of those who believe homosexual activity is sinful while also saying they believe in that mantra’s sentiment.
“Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.” 1 Peter 3:8 (NIV).
(The top picture is one I took of Lake Norman in November 2016, a couple of months after the survey was taken.)
An earlier version of this article was published in The Tablet.
Sources and Notes
The survey also asked about contraception coverage and bathroom use of transgender people. View the full study here.
Most statistics in this post are reported by Pew Research here: http://www.pewforum.org/2016/09/28/where-the-public-stands-on-religious-liberty-vs-nondiscrimination/
Others here: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/12/18/most-u-s-christian-groups-grow-more-accepting-of-homosexuality/ (54% …. “1 – Homosexuality should be accepted by society” or “2 – … discouraged by society.” Complete report here.)
For the survey’s sympathy questions, see “Complete Report PDF” here.