It used to be that if an LGBT person wanted to belong to a religious institution at all, let alone serve in one, they had to be closeted, celibate, or at least pretending to be chaste. In an example of how quickly things can change, a new study of congregations in the US found that nearly half permitted people in committed same-sex relationships to be members; nearly one in three let LGBT members be some type of volunteer church or temple leader.
The research findings, which were taken from Duke University’s National Congregations Study, were previewed the week of November 11 and will be published in full in early 2014. The study surveyed 1,331 congregations located in the US and compared the results from the most recent survey, in 2012, to a survey from 2006-2007. The survey was first given in 1998.
The researcher who led the study, sociology professor Mark Chaves of Duke University, wrote in the research findings, “Compared to our study in 2006-2007, there’s been a 10 percent increase among congregations that say gays and lesbians in committed relationships can be full-fledged members. Last time we asked these questions, it was 38 percent of congregations that let gays and lesbians be full members.”
About 17 percent of the congregations surveyed reported having openly LGBT members; the study also found that similarly to large cities, openly LGBT members were more likely to be found in larger places of worship, which resulted in the percentage of people belonging to faith communities with openly LGBT members worked out to 31 percent.
Analysis of the data also showed that congregations are becoming more open towards people of other ethnicities as well as sexualities. For example, in 1998, nearly 75 percent of worship communities reported that over four-fifths of their members were white; in 2006-2007, the number had fallen to 66 percent, and in 2012 only 57 percent.