In any discussion about the future of religion in America, especially as it relates to stalled growth in churches and denominations, those outside our religious communities find one theory especially compelling. This is the idea: that young Evangelicals are frustrated with Christian orthodoxy’s strict standards of sexual morality. We’re told that these young Evangelicals will soon revolutionize our churches with liberalized views on same-sex marriage, premarital sex, gender identity, and so on. But a new study by a University of Texas sociologist finds that Evangelical Christians ages 18 to 39 are resisting liberalizing trends in the culture.
The suggestion of a shift in attitudes does sound plausible. Indeed, one of us has warned for years that conservative Evangelicals are often “slow-motion sexual revolutionaries,” adjusting to the ambient culture on, for instance, divorce in ways that have harmed our witness and compromised the Biblical message. How much more vulnerable would Evangelicals be in a culture that is shifting roller-coaster fast on the definition of marriage itself and related issues? But recent data suggest otherwise.
The research, to be fully released in September, was introduced in Mark Regnerus’s presentation “Sex in America: Sociological Trends in American Sexuality,” unveiled at a recent gathering of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s leadership summit. According to Regnerus, when compared with the general population and with their non-observant peers, churchgoing Evangelical Christians are retaining orthodox views on Biblical sexuality, despite the shifts in broader American culture.
Regnerus surveyed 15,378 persons between the ages of 18 and 60, but he focuses in particular on respondents under 40. Significantly, Regnerus did the important work of differentiating between those who identify merely verbally with a particular religious tradition and those who actually attend church weekly. A political poll that didn’t differentiate between likely and unlikely voters wouldn’t be an accurate representation of the electorate, and for the same reasons, a survey should distinguish between someone who says “Catholic” or “Baptist” when asked for a religious identity and someone who actually shows up in the pews.
While support for same-sex marriage characterized a solid majority of those identifying as atheists, agnostics, liberal Catholics, and liberal Protestants, only 11 percent of young Evangelicals actively expressed support for same-sex marriage.
Approximately 6 percent of religiously active Evangelicals expressed support for abortion rights, while over 70 percent of their non-believing peer group said they believed in abortion rights.
While a large cross-section of all Americans believe in marriage’s importance, Regnerus found that, for example, Evangelicals are less likely than most to perceive marriage as “outdated.”
Evangelical Christians were also drastically less likely to believe that cohabitation is a good idea. While upward of 70 percent of those who claim no religious affiliation or those who are “spiritual but not religious” agree that cohabitation is acceptable, approximately 5 percent of Evangelicals agreed that cohabitation is acceptable. “While left-leaning Evangelicals have received considerable media attention lately, it pays to survey the masses and see just what’s going on,” says Regnerus. “These data suggest that while a modest minority of Evangelicals under 40 profess what we might call more sexually liberal attitudes, it’s not a significant minority. Minorities can be vocal. Survey data help us understand just how large or small they really are.”
(For the rest of the article, click the link.)