A November 2012 survey of adults in the United States found 37 percent affirm a belief that homosexual behavior is a sin -- a statistically significant change from a September 2011 LifeWay Research survey asking the same question. At that time, 44 percent answered, "Yes."
In contrast, the percentage of Americans who do not believe homosexuality is a sin remains nearly the same between the two surveys -- 43 percent in September 2011 and 45 percent in November, with an increase in the percentage of those unsure what they believe. Seventeen percent in the November 2012 survey answered "I don't know," an increase of 4 percent over the September 2011 survey.
Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, pointed out that halfway between the two polls President Barack Obama changed his pre-election position concerning gay marriage.
"The president's evolution on homosexuality probably impacted the evolution of cultural values -- there is a real and substantive shift, surprisingly large for a one-year time frame -- though this was hardly a normal year on this issue," Stetzer said.
The November 2012 survey also found that Americans in the South (40 percent) are the most likely to select "Yes" to the question "Do you believe homosexual behavior is a sin?" as are Americans who attend religious services at least about once a week (61 percent) and those calling themselves "born-again, evangelical, or fundamentalist Christian" (73 percent).
Americans who never attend religious services are the most likely to say they do not believe homosexual behavior is a sin (71 percent).
These findings from LifeWay Research come as Atlanta pastor Louie Giglio on Jan. 10 withdrew from giving the benediction at President Obama's upcoming inauguration in the face of criticism over a 15-year-old sermon referencing homosexuality as a sin. Stetzer noted the connection, saying, "The culture is clearly shifting on homosexuality and this creates a whole new issue: How will America deal with a minority view, strongly held by evangelicals, Catholics, Mormons, Muslims and so many others?"
Barrett Duke, vice president for public policy and research with the Ethics & Religious Liberty Committee, noted that the shift in viewpoint reflects a correlation between "faith and attitudes about homosexual behavior."
"The survey challenges the church to make sure she continues to teach the faithful about the Bible's teachings on homosexual behavior," Duke told Baptist Press. "It also provides clear evidence of the importance of the church to the moral framework of the nation. We must redouble our efforts to win the lost and make disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, who taught that not one jot or tittle would pass from the law till all is fulfilled.
"God's Word still speaks clearly to the issue of homosexual behavior -- it is sin," the Southern Baptist ethicist said. "We must make sure we share this message in a way that communicates our genuine concern for those struggling with same-sex attractions. God has a better plan for their lives. We want them to experience it."
Bob Stith, a Texas pastor who served several years as Southern Baptists' national strategist for gender issues, commented in similar fashion to Baptist Press, "The real danger here is not so much the view of homosexuality as it is the decline in the confidence of the American people in the trustworthiness of Scripture. ...
"Some have been saying for years that this issue is the watershed issue for the church in this generation, not because of homosexuality per se but as an indicator of the degree to which the American public truly believes the Bible to be the Word of God," Stith said.
"We have gone as a people from a broad and general trust in the Bible to a nation that questions whether there really is any such thing as absolute truth."
Such trends, Stith said, "have opened the door for gay apologists to cast doubt on what the Bible really says about homosexuality. Southern Baptists must do a better job of addressing these claims. Failure to do so will further undermine confidence in the Bible."
Stith also commented on "the manner in which the subject is handled in the entertainment media. It isn't just that it is one-sided. Those who hold to a scriptural view of homosexuality are consistently portrayed as being hate-filled and ignorant.
"Evangelicals must do a better job of teaching our people to hold to a clear biblical position on homosexuality while being consistently compassionate and redemptive in our approach. But we must also accept the reality that no matter how loving and compassionate we are, many in the culture will vilify us if we dare say the Bible really does speak of homosexual acts as sin. Louis Giglio is only the latest example of this."
Barrett Duke ERLC's vice president for public policy and research
"The Lifeway survey gives us clear evidence that American attitudes on homosexual behavior are changing. The shift is not complete, however. The survey notes that there is a direct correlation between faith and attitudes about homosexual behavior. The survey challenges the church to make sure she continues to teach the faithful the biblical teachings on homosexual behavior. It also provides clear evidence of the importance of the church to the moral framework of the nation. We must redouble our efforts to win the lost and make disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, Who taught that not one jot or tittle would pass from the law till all is fulfilled. God's word still speaks clearly to the issue of homosexual behavior—it is sin. We must make sure we share this message in a way that communicates our genuine concern for those struggling with same-sex attractions. God has a better plan for their lives. We want them to experience it."
Methodology for the LifeWay Research survey on homosexuality: An online panel representing the adult population of the United States was sampled from Nov. 14-16, 2012. Responses were weighted by region, age, ethnicity, gender and education to reflect the population. The completed sample of 1,191 surveys provides a 95 percent confidence that the sampling error does not exceed plus or minus .9 percent. Margins of error are higher in subgroups.
Russ Rankin is a writer for LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Art Toalston is editor of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp
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