Maybe somebody is trying to say something

Here are two surveys from the Pew Research Center that, taken together, raise some very interesting questions about what is going on in modern Catholicism.

The first survey involves the views of gays and lesbians toward various religious groups.  The specific question asked was "do you view a particular religious group as friendly or unfriendly toward LGBT people?"  Here are the results:

Religion                  % Unfriendly
Islam                                  84
Mormon (LDS)                   83
Catholicism                         79
Evangelical Protestant          73
Judaism                              47
Mainline Protestant              41

I was a little surprised to see that Catholicism was seen as less friendly than the Evangelical churches, and I would have thought that the unfriendly numbers for Judaism and the Mainline would be a bit lower. Nevertheless, the basic results square with straight-forward intuition.  If you define an "unfriendly" attitude as one that rejects non-heterosexual sex as possibly moral and does not condone official status for same sex relationships, then Islam, and the LDS, Catholic, and Evangelical churches pretty much meet that definition.  And, with some quibbles with the numbers on the margins, these numbers serve as a rough proxy for how "hardcore" the various groups are on these issues.

The second survey involves the attitudes of people in the pews toward homosexuality.  On the question "should homosexuality be discouraged or accepted by society?" the results were:

Religion                 % Discouraged
Islam                                  45
Mormon (LDS)                   65
Catholicism                         20
Evangelical Protestant          59
Judaism                              15
Mainline Protestant              26

Partial results can be found here.  These two surveys are somewhat apples and oranges in terms of the questions they ask, but they point to a disconnect between what the people in the pews think of gay issues and what the leadership is promoting through official channels.  In other words, LGBT people perceive religious institutions as more hostile to their interests than the people in the pews actually are.  Mark Silk, a religion writer for Sojourners Magazine, calls this the "LGBT Gap."

The gap that jumps out is the one for Catholics--59 points, which dwarfs any of the other groups.  Plus, recent polling on Catholic attitudes on gay marriage shows a majority are in favor, at a level support basically the same as Mainline Protestants.  In fact, it seems that the significant movement in favor of gay marriage has been caused, in large part, by changing attitudes among Catholics.  So the official position of the Catholic Church is the same as the Mormons, but people in the pews are essentially Episcopalians.

What's going on here?  You could take the position that this proves only one-in-five Catholics are "real Catholics," whatever that means.  Indeed, many of the usual suspects came to that exact conclusion.  But when more than half the people who attend Mass at least once a month and self-identify as people for whom religion is an important part of their lives reject Priority Number One of the American Church, maybe those people are trying to say something.  At the very least, it means that Catholics are choosing not to listen.

When people are not listening, you basically have four options.  One, you could talk louder and see perhaps if you can break through.  That seems to be the approach the hierarchy is taking, with what appears to be negligible result.  Second, you can try to say the same thing in a different way.  I suppose there might be a way to re-package this issue, but at the end of the day you are either in favor of gay marriage or you are not.  Third, you can give up and stop talking to them.  Certainly, there are those who would favor that approach--George Weigel, who I hope to talk about in a future post, basically calls for pushing the 80% right out the door.

Or, finally, you could see if those people who are not listening are waiting for you to stop talking, because they have something to say.  You may not like the answer you get in return.  You don't have to agree with what they are saying.  But people like to be listened to.  People deserve to be listened to.  And what you are doing now is not working.  Perhaps it might be worth a shot.


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