LGBT “Nones”

According to Pew, LGBT individuals are the group most likely to identify as religiously unaffiliated.

Last spring’s Pew Report on “America’s Changing Religious Landscape” has garnered widespread media attention, much of it to proclaim that Christianity is dying. The news wasn’t all bad for believers; for example, as Catholics in the Northeast and the Midwest have declined, the percentages of Catholics in California and in the Southern part of the country have increased—creating what Pew has called a “new geographic center for Catholicism.” And while Mainline Protestant denominations continue to suffer steep declines in membership, there have been substantial increases in the number of those who describe themselves as “Evangelical Christians.” Today, Evangelicals make up a clear majority (55 percent) of all US Protestants—up from 51 percent in 2007. 

Still, we cannot deny that there have been significant increases in the number of the unaffiliated—those without membership in any religion. While all age cohorts (including even the Greatest Generation—those born before 1928) have contributed to the growth of the unaffiliated, the greatest increase is seen among Millennials (those born between 1981 and 1996), who showed an increase of 10 percentage points (up from 25 percent in 2007 to 35 percent in 2014). But turning away from age groups—interestingly, those who identify themselves as gay, lesbian, or bisexual are the most likely group to identify as unaffiliated. 

To understand the most recent Pew survey data on LGBT religious affiliations, it is helpful to look closely at Pew’s 2013 “Survey of the Attitudes, Experience and Values of LGBT Americans.” While 22 percent of “straight” individuals identified as “unaffiliated” in the 2013 survey, 48 percent of LGBT individuals identified as such—more than double the percentage of the general public. And, within the unaffiliated LGBT group, 8 percent identified as atheists and 9 percent as agnostics—compared to 3 percent and 4 percent, respectively, of straight respondents. Fourteen percent of LGBT respondents to the Pew poll claimed that “religion is not important,” compared to 9 percent of straight respondents.

Young LGBT adults are particularly likely to have no religious affiliation. Among adults ages 18 to 29 in the general public, 31 percent identify as unaffiliated, while roughly double that share (60 percent) are unaffiliated among LGBT adults of the same age. And roughly one in eight adults ages 50 and older in the general public are unaffiliated, compared with about four in ten of older LGBT adults.

Concluding that “religion is difficult terrain for many LGBT adults,” the Pew survey revealed that one-third of all LGBT religiously affiliated adults say that there is a conflict between their religious beliefs and their sexual orientation. Among all LGBT adults, about three in ten (29 percent) claim that they have been made to feel unwelcome in a place of worship. Pew concludes that “while societal views about homosexuality have shifted dramatically over the past decade, highly religious Americans remain more likely than others to believe that homosexuality should be discouraged rather than accepted by society.  Among those who attend religious services weekly or more frequently, two-thirds say that homosexuality conflicts with their religious beliefs (with 50 percent saying there is a great deal of conflict).”

The Pew survey also asked LGBT respondents to rate six religions or religious institutions as friendly, neutral, or unfriendly toward the LGBT population. Unaffiliated LGBT adults are most likely to see the Catholic Church as unfriendly (84 percent). The report states:

By overwhelming margins most rate all six as more unfriendly than friendly.  About eight-in-ten LGBT respondents say the Muslim religion, the Mormon Church and the Catholic Church are unfriendly toward them, while one in ten or fewer say each of these religious institutions is friendly toward them.  Similarly three quarters of LGBT adults (73 percent) say that evangelical churches are unfriendly toward them, about a fifth (21 percent) consider these churches neutral and just 3 percent say evangelical churches are friendly toward the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender population. By comparison, fewer LGBT adults see the Jewish religion and non-evangelical (mainline) Protestant churches as unfriendly toward them, but more say each is unfriendly rather than friendly by a large margin.  And about three in ten LGBT adults (29 percent) say they personally have been made to feel unwelcome at a place of worship or religious organization.

The 2013 Pew survey revealed that LGBT adults also exhibit lower levels of religious commitment.  Only 13 percent attend religious services at least weekly, compared with 37 percent of the general public.  And religion is much less significant in the lives of LGBT respondents.  A fifth (20 percent) of LGBT adults say that religion is very important in their lives, compared with roughly six in ten (59 percent) among the general public.  LGBT respondents with a religious affiliation attend worship services less frequently than do adults in the general public who have a religious affiliation.  Compared with the general public, LGBT adults are less inclined to see religion as very important in their lives: “A fifth (20 percent) say religion is very important to them, 23 percent say it is somewhat important and a majority (55 percent) say religion is not too or not at all important in their lives.  By contrast 59 percent of all U.S. adults say religion is very important in their lives.”


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About Anne Hendershott 89 Articles
Anne Hendershott is professor of sociology and director of the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at Franciscan University of Steubenville. She is the co-author of Renewal: How a New Generation of Priests and Bishops are Revitalizing the Church (Encounter Books).