Views On Abortion, Homosexuality Set Born-Again Christains Apart

Ventura (EP) - Views on the hot-button issues of abortion and homosexuality set born-again Christians apart from their non-born again peers, according to a new report from the Barna Research Group. The study found that born-again adults are much more likely to reject both abortion and homosexuality.

On the question of abortion, a nationwide survey of adults found that 18 percent believe abortion should be legal in all circumstances, 24 percent believe it should be legal in most cases with only a few exceptions, 32 percent believe it should be illegal in most cases with only a few exceptions, and 23 percent believe abortion should be illegal under all conditions. Only 4 percent had no opinion.

However, the study found that people's responses differed sharply, depending on their religious beliefs. Just 1 percent of evangelicals said abortion should be legal in all situations, compared to 9 percent of all born-again Christians (a larger sub-group of Christians that includes evangelicals), 23 percent of all non-born-again adults, 36 percent of adults aligned with a non-Christian church, and 40 percent atheists.

On the other hand, a whopping 94 percent of evangelicals and 73 percent of all born-again adults say abortion should be illegal in all circumstances or illegal with only a few exceptions. In contrast, just 43 percent of all non-born-again adults concurred, including 24 percent of adults connected to non-Christian faiths and 30 percent of atheists.

The study found a huge gap within the Christian community. Half of all adults (50 percent) who attend a mainline Protestant church said abortion should be legal in all or most circumstances, which was nearly double the proportion (29 percent) among Protestants attending non-mainline congregations. Similarly, only 11 percent of mainliners said abortion should be illegal under all circumstances, while three times as many other Protestants (33 percent) took that position. Not quite two out of every three Catholics (63 percent) said abortion should be illegal in all or most cases, including 26 percent who said it should be illegal in all cases.

The issue of homosexuality was somewhat less divisive. When asked if homosexual relations between consenting adults should be legal or not legal, a slight plurality of adults (48 percent) said such relationships should be legal, while 42 percent said they should be illegal. One out of every 10 adults did not have an option on the matter.

The gap between born-again and non-born-again adults was less pronounced on this issue than was the gap related to abortion rights. While 57 percent of non-born-again adults said homosexuality should be legal, only 34 percent of born-again adults agreed.

Among all Americans, 45 percent said homosexuality should be considered an acceptable lifestyle alternative while 46 percent said it should not (the remaining 9 percent were not sure). The religious gap was wider on this item with born-again Christians twice as likely as non-Christians (66 percent vs. 34 percent) to view homosexuality as an unacceptable lifestyle.

The biggest gap observed relates to clergy marrying gay couples. By a 2-to-1 margin (62 percent to 30 percent) adults disapprove of clergy marrying gay couples or blessing their marriage unions. Disapproval was virtually universal among evangelicals (97 percent) and widespread among born-again adults (79 percent) and Catholics (61 percent). In sharp contrast, just one-third of atheists (33 percent) and those who associate with non-Christian faith groups (36 percent) disapproved of such clergy involvement.

The research found that younger adults lean toward more liberal views on these social issues. People 35 and younger are substantially more likely to approve of abortion in all or most circumstances; are much more likely to describe themselves as "pro-choice" than are any other age segment; were much more likely to argue that homosexual relations should be legal; substantially more likely to consider homosexuality an acceptable lifestyle; and notably more likely to approve of clergy conducting or blessing gay marriages.

George Barna, who directed the study, said the views of the younger set may not have a significant impact on conservative congregations.

"Over the long term, we expect to see a growing acceptance of abortion and homosexuality as Baby Busters and Mosaics, the youngest generation, become more influential in public policy and business policy," the pollster said. "The comparatively liberal views of the younger two generations will not have as significant an impact upon Christian churches since churches often base their positions on these matters upon biblical views. However, even the debate on these matters may become less divisive than might be expected since Busters and Mosaics are less likely to participate in the life of such churches and, consequently, will have relatively less impact on the positions taken by Protestant churches."

The study shows that traditional moral values upheld by Christians are continuing to lose ground. Overall, about seven out of 10 born-again adults have consistently pro-life positions and about six out of 10 consequently oppose homosexuality. However, because the born-again population represents just four out of every 10 adults, and one-third of all teen-agers, reaching a national consensus on such issues may be more difficult in the years ahead. Traditional moral stands are held by a bare majority of adults on abortion, while adults are about evenly split on matters related to homosexuality.

Barna noted that people who read the Bible have a more conservative view on these issues.

"Among people who read the Bible on their own, three-quarters oppose abortion, two-thirds call themselves "pro-life," three-fifths say homosexuality should be illegal, two-thirds call homosexuality an unacceptable lifestyle, and three-quarters oppose clergy participation in gay marriages," Barna said.

"Exposure to the Bible clearly affects a person's views on these matters, compensating for other factors such as age, education and church ideology. It seems that if conservative Christians have any chance of restoring a more traditional moral perspective to America, it is most likely to be accomplished by encouraging people to base their moral choices on the basis of God's Word rather than on the basis of cultural leanings or political arguments."

The data described above are from telephone interviews with a nationwide random sample of 1,003 adults in May 2001. The maximum margin of sampling error associated with the aggregate sample is plus or minus 3 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level. In Barna's studies, "born again" and "evangelical" Christians are identified by adherence to specific beliefs, not by self-identification.