By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country
Mainline Protestantism is usually depicted in the news media as the politically liberal analogue to the conservative evangelical movement. But it's more complicated than that.
For instance, mainliners split their support evenly between George W. Bush and John Kerry in 2004, a year when nearly 80 percent of white evangelicals pulled the lever for Bush. Last November, Obama got only 44 percent of the white nonevangelical Protestant vote—mainliners, mostly—the same share Kerry got.
And USA Today's Cathy Lynn Grossman blogs about a new survey of mainline Protestant clergy, the most comprehensive ever conducted, that finds that most do not support legalizing same-sex marriage, even if they wouldn't be required to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies.
The survey finds that mainline Protestant clergy support gay rights generally—65 percent support legalized gay unions if you include civil unions—but gay marriage has become a key front for the gay rights movement in recent months as more and more states move to legalize it.
Public Religion Research, which conducted the survey, stresses that mainline clergy are trending left on gay rights:
Mainline clergy have become significantly more progressive on gay and lesbian issues over the last decade. Between 2001 and 2008, the number of clergy agreeing that gays and lesbians should have all the same rights and privileges as other American citizens increased 9 points from 70% to 79%. Nearly half (45%) of Mainline clergy report that their views on gay and lesbian issues are more liberal today than they were 10 years ago. About 4-in-10 say their views have not changed. Only 14% say their views are now more conservative than they were a decade earlier.
But it's striking that the nation's supposedly liberal mainline tradition is still so ambivalent on gay rights. For instance, less than half of mainline clergy support the ordination of gays and lesbians.
Here's how Public Religion Research breaks down the mainline clergy in terms of attitudes on gay rights:
A plurality of Mainline clergy constitute an Uncertain Middle, while close to one-third are strongly supportive of or opposed to LGBT rights and inclusion in the church.
- Supportive Base (29%), clergy who strongly support gay and lesbian rights and generally do not see homosexuality as a choice nor as a sin;
- Opposing Base (30%), clergy who strongly oppose gay and lesbian rights and generally see homosexuality as a choice and as a sin; and
- The Uncertain Middle (41%), clergy who support some gay and lesbian rights but are ambivalent on others.