New research from Barna shows a massive shift underway in the way “practicing” American Catholics  see gay rights. The study compares views of practicing Protestants too. The most interesting number is talked about here, focusing on the difference between what American Christians are willing to accept legally, versus what they consider moral:

Despite the significant social acceptance the LGBTQ community has achieved in recent years, the Barna study reveals the gap between what Americans are willing to allow legally and what they believe is morally acceptable. Overall, 37% of Americans say same-sex relationships are morally appropriate. This represents an increase from 30% of Americans who embraced this view a decade ago.

Yet even with a surge of legal changes for the LGBTQ community, nearly six out of 10 Americans today do not view same-sex relationships as moral. While most measures of support for the LGBTQ community have reached majority status, a minority of Americans is willing to condone such relationships from an ethical standpoint.

Practicing Catholics are some of the most likely to have changed views on this question. Their support for the moral acceptability of same-sex relationships has nearly doubled in the past decade. Atheists and agnostics and those who embrace a faith other than Christianity have grown, too, in supporting the moral legitimacy of same-sex relationships. For their part, practicing Protestants have moved so little (from 12% to 15%) that it is within the range of sampling error.

Of course you have to ask what one means by “practicing.” For purposes of this poll, Barna defined practicing somewhat loosely:

“Practicing Christians” include self-identified Christians/Catholics who have attended a church service at least once in the last month and who agree strongly with the statement “your religious faith is very important in your life today.”

It’s fairly standard for orthodox Catholics to point out when confronted by statistics like this that it’s debatable how serious one should take the Catholicism of a person who goes to mass so infrequently, given that the faith requires its adherents to attend mass weekly, on pain of sin. If you restricted “practicing Catholics” to weekly massgoers, you’d see a number a lot more like the Protestant number, I’m betting.

That said, I think it’s fair to ask what kind of influence the less-committed Catholics who still count themselves as part of the fold will have on the flock, given the strong pressure from the secular world to liberalize on homosexuality. The Catholic Church has not changed its teaching on homosexuality. Why have the numbers collapsed among people who strongly identify themselves as religious Catholics, and who go to mass at least once a month?

Another interesting figure from the Barna study, looking at Evangelicals as a subset of Protestants:

Among the Barna-defined evangelical segment, most of their attitudes on LGBTQ issues have not changed much since 2003—in fact, they are the one group that has become more resistant toward LGBTQ concerns on several fronts. This includes:

  • Evangelicals remain very unlikely to favor changing laws to support LGBTQ lifestyles (declining from 12% in 2003 to 5%).
  • They continue to be extremely supportive of defining marriage as one man and one woman (inching up from 90% to 93%).
  • And they roundly reject the moral acceptability of same-sex marriage (up from 95% to 98%).

The only area in which evangelicals have become more willing to support LGBTQ causes in the last decade has been their slight increase in favoring adoption by same-sex couples (from 12% to 18%).

What do you readers think?