By Aaron Earls
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Approval for same-sex relationships has grown among Protestant pastors, but a majority still disapprove.
A new survey from Nashville-based Lifeway Research asked Protestant pastors their thoughts on same-gender marriages and civil unions.
In the most recent survey, 24% of pastors say they see nothing wrong with two people of the same gender getting married. Almost three-quarters say they disagree (72%), with 67% strongly disagreeing.
The near quarter of pastors in support of same-sex marriage are up from previous Lifeway Research studies—20% in 2018 and 15% in 2010.
Currently, pastors are more likely to back same-sex civil unions, but a majority still disapprove.
Around a third (32%) say they see nothing wrong with civil unions between two people of the same gender. Almost two-thirds (63%) say they disagree, with a majority (54%) strongly disagreeing.
In the 2010 Lifeway Research survey, 27% of Protestant pastors were supportive of same-sex civil unions, while 70% of pastors disagreed.
“More than four years after the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states, most Protestant pastors still see a moral problem with it,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research. “More pastors are protective of marriage itself, but legal civil unions also are seen as wrong by most pastors.”
For the majority of pastors, actually performing same-sex marriage ceremonies have been more of a theoretical issue than a practical one.
A 2016 Lifeway Research survey found 11% of Protestant pastors said they had been asked to perform a same-sex marriage ceremony.
The increase in support for same-sex marriage among Protestant pastors can be attributed to changing attitudes among certain groups, especially mainline pastors.
In 2010, 8% of self-identified evangelical Protestant pastors said they saw nothing wrong with two people of the same gender getting married, while 32% of self-identified mainline Protestant pastors said the same.
Today, as a decade ago, 8% of evangelical pastors say they have no issues with same-sex marriage. Among mainline pastors, however, support has jumped from a third to almost half (47%).
Presbyterian or Reformed (49%), Methodist (47%), Lutheran (35%) and Christian/Church of Christ pastors (20%) are more likely to see nothing wrong with same-sex marriage than Baptist (3%) or Pentecostal pastors (1%).
“The stability in the views of evangelical pastors means either there has been no growth in acceptance of same-sex marriage among them or the pastors that no longer have moral reservations about it no longer identify as evangelical,” said McConnell.
In addition to mainline pastors being more likely than evangelicals, white pastors (27%) are more likely to see nothing wrong with same-sex marriage than African American pastors (15%) or pastors of other ethnicities (6%).
Those with a doctorate (27%) or a master’s degree (32%) are more likely to support same-sex marriage than pastors with a bachelor’s degree (9%) or no college degree (6%).
Pastors of churches with fewer than 50 in attendance are more likely to see nothing wrong with two people of the same gender getting married (33%) than those at churches with 100 or more in attendance (19%).
“The movement we see among pastors’ views of same-sex marriage has less to do with their denominational tradition than their view of the Bible,” said McConnell. “An evangelical distinctive is the ultimate authority the Bible has over one’s beliefs despite changing cultural perspectives. It is not surprising then that evangelical pastors across different denominations continue to view same-sex marriage as wrong through this lens.”
Aaron Earls is a writer for Lifeway Christian Resources.
The phone survey of 1,000 Protestant pastors was conducted Aug. 30 – Sept. 24, 2019. Comparisons were made to surveys with the same methodology conducted Aug. 29 – Sept. 11, 2018 and Oct. 7-14, 2010.
The calling list was a stratified random sample, drawn from a list of all Protestant churches. Quotas were used for church size. Each interview was conducted with the senior pastor, minister or priest of the church called. Responses were weighted by region to more accurately reflect the population. The completed sample is 1,000 surveys.
The sample provides 95% confidence that the sampling error does not exceed plus or minus 3.3%. Margins of error are higher in sub-groups.