Americans remain faithful to religion
Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service
June 28, 2011

Americans remain faithful to religion

Americans remain faithful to religion
Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service
June 28, 2011

WASHINGTON — 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 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


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


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


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.