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Beliefnet News

Americans see room to disagree but remain faithful to religion

c. 2011 Religion News Service

WASHINGTON (RNS) Significant majorities of Americans say it is possible to disagree with their religion’s teachings on abortion and homosexuality and still remain in good standing with their faith.

The findings, released Thursday (June 9) in a detailed survey by Public Religion Research Institute, held true for major religious groups, including Catholics and white evangelical Protestants.

The findings reflect the complicated tasks faced by Catholic bishops to discipline politicians who stray from church teaching, or evangelical groups that try to toe a traditional line as cultural values shift around them.

In fact, the survey found that six in 10 Americans chafe at the idea of religious leaders publicly pressuring politicians on the issue of abortion, as has happened to several high-profile Catholic Democrats in recent years.


Overall, 72 percent of Americans say it’s permissible to disagree with church teaching on abortion, and 63 percent say the same for homosexuality.

Catholics closely mirror the general population’s position on abortion and church teaching, but are more progressive than the general population on the issue of homosexuality and church teaching.

Two-thirds of evangelicals (67 percent) said they could differ with church teaching on abortion, and slightly less than a majority (47 percent) said the same about homosexuality.

The report focused on the views of millennials (people ages 18-29) and found that they are more supportive than their parents of gay marriage. Their views on abortion closely mirror their parents, however, with six in 10 saying abortion should be legal in all or most cases.


Also, most millennials — 68 percent — think at least some health care professionals in their community should provide legal abortions.

“Millennials are actually more likely to say that abortion should be available in their local community than say it should be legal,” said Robert P. Jones, CEO of the Washington-based research firm, which announced its results at the Brookings Institution.

Abortion services by local health care professionals is also supported by majorities of white mainline Protestants (72 percent), the religiously unaffiliated (71 percent), white Catholics (58 percent), and black Protestants (56 percent). Minorities of Latino Catholics (38
percent) and white evangelicals (37 percent) supported such availability.


The report also found a religious divide on the sinfulness of having an abortion, with more than 60 percent of white evangelicals, black Protestants and Latino Catholics seeing it as sinful. White Catholics, meanwhile, were evenly divided (46 percent each), and white mainline Protestants were the sole major religious group where a majority (55 percent) did not believe it is sinful.

Researchers found a link between biblical interpretation and opposition to abortion: almost six in 10 Americans who say the Bible is the literal word of God believe abortion should be illegal in all or most cases.

More than 80 percent of people who don’t see the Bible as the word of God but rather a book written by men think abortion should be legal in all or most circumstances.


The overall survey, based on telephone interviews with 3,000 people between April 22 and May 8, had a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points. The sample of 431 millennials had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

Among other findings:

— Significant majorities of mainline Protestants (85 percent), Catholics (78 percent), black Protestants (74 percent) and evangelicals (62 percent) support public schools teaching comprehensive sex education.

— With the exception of white evangelicals, majorities of major religious groups say “pro-life” and “pro-choice” are both labels that describe them at least somewhat well.

— Majorities of Americans who attend church at least once or twice a week hear clergy talk about abortion and homosexuality, with most hearing those issues are morally wrong and few hearing they are morally acceptable.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment pagansister

    It’s nice to see that religion hasn’t made total robots of many of the “faithful” and they are using their brains to decide whether some of those religious doctrines make sense to them. Excellent.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment nnmns

    It’s possible Americans are growing up a little. Mature people don’t let themselves be led around by religious “leaders”.

    As for the Bible believers being against abortion, that’s funny since it’s not in the Bible. Funny and pathetic.

  • http://; Georgia Dude

    This is an intesting story, but 3,000 people who participated in the survey really reflect the attitudes of the overall American public.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Tammy

    Last time I checked….Thou shall not kill was still a commandment!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment nnmns

    It probably still is Tammy but it refers to people and it is often broken, including by our governments.

    Whether it should also refer to sentient nonhuman beings such as dolphins, chimps, even crows and parrots, perhaps hogs is an open and interesting question.

    Whether it should refer to zygotes, blastocysts, embryos and fetuses is an additional question. Even some of the earlier popes thought abortion was not murder till “quickening”. Politicization of the issue has since made it harder to discuss rationally.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment pagansister

    nnmns, excellent points in that post! Well said.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment nnmns

    Thank you ps. I appreciate that.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Druidwood

    I’m new here so I won’t try to ruffle anyones feathers not just yet.
    I think it depends very much where you live I live in the bible-belt myself, most here are highly against such things as abortion and homosexuality.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment jestrfyl

    The title aptly describes the problem – people are expected to be faithful to their religion. There is a diminished sense of a relatonship with the divine – as an transcendent entity or even as a bonding presence for the community. Fidelity to an institution is simply another form of idolatry. It is this sort of silliness that fuels the arguments presneted by atheists.

    Authentic faith is in not in objects or institutions, often repeated aphorisms or italicised liturgical phrases, concepts or theories.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Allan

    I will accept the churches’ condemnation of homosexualitymwhen they come out equally strongly against heterosexual fornication, which can lead to unwanted children and abortion.

    Homosexual behavior has never yet led to an abortion.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment cknuck

    the bible predicts all of these things, homosexuality on the rise, abortion, and turning away from the church and God to satisfy wicked imaginations and appetites the faithful should not be surprised.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Grumpy Old Person

    I’d love to know which version of the Bible you will find a prediction of “homosexuality on the rise”, considering the word “homosexual” was only coined about 110 years ago.

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