Conservative Protestantism and Tolerance toward CONSERVATIVE PROTESTANTISM AND TOLERANCE TOWARD HOMOSEXUALS 177 Homosexuals: An Examination of Potential

Mechanisms*

Amy M. Burdette, University of Texas at Austin Christopher G. Ellison, University of Texas at Austin Terrence D. Hill, University of Texas at Austin

A number of studies over the years have reported that members of conservative Protestant churches tend to be less tolerant—that is, reluctant to extend civil liberties —vis-à-vis homosexuals. This paper explores several possible explanations for this pattern. In particular, we identify key aspects of conservative Protestant religious values and worldviews that may contribute to this pattern, and relevant hypotheses are tested using data from the 1988 General Social Survey. Results highlight the role of biblical literalism, as well as specific beliefs about the public nature of morality and the implications of perceived immoral conduct for collective well-being. We discuss the implications of these findings for the understanding of contemporary conservative Protestantism, as well as for future research on the nexus of religion, politics, and democratic citizenship.

Introduction Dating back to the work of Samuel Stouffer (1955), a long tradition of sociological research has examined patterns, trends, and predictors of tolerance (i.e., the willingness to extend civil liberties to deviant or unpopular groups). Religion variables have consistently emerged as significant predictors in this literature, and many studies of tolerance have included gay men as a key target or focal group-one of the unpopular elements in society toward which tolerance is a persistent concern. Although studies have consistently shown that conservative Protestants are more reluctant to extend civil liberties to deviant or unpopular groups than other Americans, surprisingly few studies have attempted to explain this pattern empirically. This gap in the literature is especially glaring in the wake of recent debates concerning the civil rights of gays and lesbians in the United States. If conservative Protestants are less tolerant of gay men than other Americans, why are they? Does conservative Protestant intolerance reflect higher levels of religious commitment and participation, which may in turn imply exposure to conventional or overtly antigay messages? Is this a straightforward indication of theology, especially the Bible-centered religion of many conservative Protestants? Or do these views stem from a more complex, nuanced moral worldview? Finally, to what extent do religious variations in tolerance of gay men simply reflect disapproval of homosexual conduct?
Sociological Inquiry, Vol. 75, No. 2, May 2005, 177–196
© 2005 Alpha Kappa Delta

178 AMY M. BURDETTE, CHRISTOPHER G. ELLISON, AND TERRENCE D. HILL

We begin by outlining a series of theoretical arguments linking specific aspects of conservative Protestant worldviews with (a) disapproval of homosexuality and (b) reluctance to extend civil liberties to gay men. We then test specific hypotheses distilled from these arguments using data from the 1988 General Social Survey. Although these data are not as recent as would be ideal, they contain a special module on religio-political attitudes, and thus offer a unique opportunity to address these specific issues. Previous Empirical Studies on Religion and Tolerance A number of studies have linked religious affiliation, particularly conservative Protestantism, with lower levels of tolerance toward homosexuals and other controversial groups (see Table 1 for a summary of this research). While previous research has found that having any religious affiliation leads to greater intolerance, there is considerable variation within religious groupings. Specifically, Jews appear to be the most tolerant, followed by mainline Protestants and Catholics. Despite some evidence of increasing tolerance over time, conservative Protestants remain more reluctant to extend civil liberties to unpopular groups across the ideological spectrum, including homosexuals, than other religious groups (e.g., Beatty and Walter 1984; Loftus 2001; Peterson and Donnenwerth 1998; Roof and McKinney 1987; Wilcox and Jelen 1990). Although evidence from surveys of the general population suggests that conservative Protestants are less tolerant of gays than persons from other faiths, several revisionist scholars question this claim. For example, Hunter (1984, 1987) maintains that conservative Protestants, especially the younger generation of evangelicals, are committed to social and political tolerance. Smith (2000) argues that survey research is flawed in that it does not allow respondents to convey complex theological beliefs. Through in-depth interviews, Smith observes that the majority of evangelicals convey their theological beliefs through establishing personal relationships with non-Christians, rather than engaging in overt political action. Smith also asserts that evangelicals are largely tolerant of gays and lesbians, as well as other groups viewed as in opposition to conservative Protestant beliefs. Nevertheless, in an appendix Smith (2000) acknowledges that conservative Protestants are more likely than other Americans to believe that gays and lesbians have too much influence in America, to not want a homosexual to live in their neighborhood, and to support restrictions of basic civil liberties to homosexuals. Differences between religious affiliates and other Americans seem to be partially explained by sociodemographic differences. Intolerance has been related to low levels of education, rural residence, being a native southerner, and low levels of income (Bobo and Licari 1989; Ellison and Musick 1993; Loftus

and nonreligious Ellison and Musick (1993) GSS 1988 Control for fundamental Protestant Hunter (1984) Evangelical Academy Project Evangelical college students. Liberal/ Moderate Protestant. to liberal traditions of social and political tolerance. but does not five groups account for native southern antipathy toward left-wing groups.Table 1 Summary of Research on Religion and Tolerance CONSERVATIVE PROTESTANTISM AND TOLERANCE TOWARD HOMOSEXUALS 179 Data Religious groupings Measure of tolerance Index ranging from 1 to 4 for five groups. Catholic. college teaching toward the target group. concerning homosexuals Fundamentalist Protestants are most willing to restrict the civil liberties of homosexuals. are committed highly intolerant. (continued ) . speaking. Mormons. with some from highly tolerant to exceptions. Index ranging from 0 (no There has been a decline restrictions on civil liberties) in willingness to restrict to 3 (all restrictions) civil liberties to homosexuals. Overall civil liberties index of account negative feelings 15 items. Catholic. and library book subscale among religious groups. Jehovah’s Witness. Individual binary items for Education leads to an increase in tolerance. other religion. none Bobo and Licari (1989) GSS 1984 Jewish. 1977. Civil liberties index ranging Evangelicals. Protestantism contributes to group specific indices for intolerance. Jewish. Protestant. general tolerance index for leastliked group Conclusions Beatty and Walter (1984) GSS 1976. public university college students Fundamentalist Protestant. Protestants are least tolerant subscale. Tolerance decreases with increased church attendance. taking into five target groups. Prominence of fundamental Index of overall tolerance created from 15 items. Christian. and no religion Loftus (2001) GSS 1973–1998 Denominations usually characterized as fundamentalists are less tolerant of all groups. 1980 16 Protestant denominations. Catholic. Jewish.

followed by Liberal Protestants and Catholics. Jews. other Protestant. Conservative Protestants are consistently the least supportive of civil liberties. and Homosexuals. Catholic. Civil liberties scale of overall tolerance Jews and those with no preference are most tolerant. Mainline Protestants. Jews. and none Conservative Protestants. Catholics. Moderate Protestants. other Protestant. AND TERRENCE D. 1973 Evangelical Protestant.Table 1 (continued ) 180 AMY M. Catholic. HILL Data Religious groupings Measure of tolerance Index ranging from 3 (no civil liberties) to 6 (all civil liberties) for homosexuals Index ranging from 3 (no civil liberties) to 6 (all civil liberties) for five groups Conclusions Over time there has been an increase in tolerance among Christian groups. CHRISTOPHER G. Jews. and Catholics (white) Reimer and Park (2001) GSS 1972–1998 Conservative Protestants have become more willing to grant civil liberties over time. yet continue to be significantly less libertarian than other white Christians. Wilcox and Jelen (1990) Nunn et al. fundamentalist. All types of conservative Protestants are less tolerant than other Americans. Roof and McKinney (1987) GSS 1972–1984 Conservative Protestants. and none Responses on binary items for Atheists. Catholics. Tolerance among Evangelicals is not group specific. and none (white) Index ranging from 0 (no civil liberties) to 3 (all civil liberties) for five groups. Peterson and Donnenwerth (1998) GSS 1972–1993 Conservative Protestants. and none (white) Index ranging from 0 (no civil liberties) to 3 (all civil liberties) for four groups GSS 1972–1988 Evangelical. including Conservative Protestants. BURDETTE. Communists. Black Protestants. others. Pentecostal. two measures of general tolerance . ELLISON. Liberal Protestants. Mainline Protestants.

previous research has simply overlooked the impact of viewing morality as a personal. Conservative Protestant Worldviews and Intolerance of Homosexuality We have already noted that while other religious groups continue to debate issues relating to homosexuality. although the magnitude of this association seems to vary by denomination (Beatty and Walter 1984). On average those who attend church more frequently are more intolerant. Conservative Protestants are more likely to have these same attributes (Wald 1987). Ellison and Musick 1993. Is intolerance simply a reflection of disproportionate antipathy toward homosexual conduct? Is it a product of conservative Protestant allegiance to biblical truth claims? Or does it reflect a distinctive orientation toward public morality and the role of civil authorities in shaping and regulating personal behavior? Addressing these questions is the major contribution of this paper. few studies in the area of religion and tolerance have taken into account the respondent’s notion of societal contamination. particularly gays and lesbians. and frequency of church attendance increases exposure to certain moral messages through sermons and interactions with other affiliates (Sherkat and Ellison 1997). Despite the evidence that conservative Protestantism is inversely associated with tolerance. Wilcox and Jelen 1990). However. Even though it is extensively documented that conservative Protestant literature emphasizes the perceived dangers that gays and lesbians pose to society. conservative Protestants appear to be more intolerant than other Americans. as well as holding a literalist view of the Bible (Beatty and Walter 1984. surprisingly little attention has been given to the worldviews that underlie the reluctance to extend civil liberties to unpopular groups in general and gay men in particular. . This opposition may be partially explained by high levels of church attendance. and biblical literalists are on average less tolerant than those who hold other views of the Bible (Ellison and Musick 1993. Wilcox and Jelen 1990). Research has also demonstrated the importance of biblical literalism in connection with tolerance toward controversial groups. Additionally. Several studies take into account differences in levels of church attendance. rather than a societal. Conservative Protestants are more likely to believe that the Bible is the literal word of God (Hunter 1987). issue.CONSERVATIVE PROTESTANTISM AND TOLERANCE TOWARD HOMOSEXUALS 181 2001. Research shows that conservative Protestants attend church more frequently than members of other religious groups (Roof and McKinney 1987). sociodemographic differences do not fully account for variations in levels of tolerance (Ellison and Musick 1993. The moral messages that accompany religious attendance routinely pertain to appropriate sexual behavior and may help to create and maintain opposition to homosexuality. Wilcox and Jelen 1990). Wilcox and Jelen 1990).

One of the most widely cited passages from the Old Testament is the account of Sodom in Genesis 19. HILL Those who believe that the Bible is the literal word of God hold a certain moral absolutism that may be incompatible with tolerance toward gays and lesbians. Bartkowski. including the moral training of youth. Moral Privatism. The doctrine of biblical literalism is directly connected to conservative Protestant opposition to homosexuality. providing necessary and sufficient information about the conduct of human affairs and the answers to mundane human problems. supporting (a) social and moral stability.g. Conservative Protestants tend to view the nuclear family as the central institution in society. relativizing absolutist claims about family arrangements and delegitimizing norms of sexual .1 A general interpretation of this story held by many conservative Protestants has been that of a warning: those who fail to practice sexual restraint are in danger of being annihilated in the hands of God. conservative Protestants are the most publicly oriented on a number of issues. involving the destruction of the city by God. 1 Peter 3:1). a key site for the embodiment and reproduction of divinely ordained principles of hierarchy and patriarchy. Social Contamination.182 AMY M. Those who hold oppositional attitudes toward moral privatism may feel that restricting the civil liberties of certain groups is a legitimate option for protecting American society. BURDETTE. CHRISTOPHER G. Many conservative Protestants see the Bible as the ultimate source of authority. Those who believe that homosexuals and other groups could threaten or contaminate American society may feel that morality is not a matter of personal choice. and Segal 1996). particularly homosexuality. and (b) procreation and the intergenerational transmission of religious faith. Ellison. Other biblical passages relating to appropriate relationships between husbands and wives (Ephesians 5:22–23. Conservative Protestants more commonly cite New Testament passages as support of the harmful nature of homosexuality.. Falwell 1980). and Intolerance Regnerus and Smith (1998) argue that a significant minority of Americans have resisted the individual-level privatization of religion. or relating to procreation (Genesis 1:27–28) are also cited as support of the unnatural nature of homosexual relationships (Falwell 1980). AND TERRENCE D. This passage has been cited as evidence of the threat of sexual immorality. including the place of gays and lesbians in society. In particular. character building. but something that affects society as a whole. Romans 1:26–27 is often quoted as evidence that homosexuality is both unnatural and perverse. including the regulation of sexuality. and the like. Dobson 2000. In addition. ELLISON. Viewed in this light. as well as interpretations of world events and societal developments (Boone 1989. 1st Corinthians 6:9–10 is often cited as support that homosexuals will not be admitted to heaven unless they reform their behavior (e.

America will be no exception. Conservative Protestants may perceive gays and lesbians as a threat to the nuclear family as well as the continued existence of America. conservative Protestant affiliates may feel an obligation to mobilize politically to oppose groups defined by religious leaders and interpreted by biblical texts as posing a threat to society. and having accessible books is not just a choice made by some conservative Protestants. This is an idea that can be traced to the Puritans who believed that America enjoyed distinct blessings and had a distinct purpose or mission in the world. In the minds of many conservative Protestants. morality is more than a private decision. restricting gay men from public speaking. Many conservative Protestants believe that America is a “covenant society” with a mission to uphold God’s word within its institutions. fundamentalist leader Jerry Falwell named homosexuals as one of several groups bearing partial responsibility for the terrorists attacks. and all the nations that forget God. As a result. It is a public concern. Failure to act in accordance with the will of God could result in God’s removal of his blessing of America. These particular civil liberties are important because they indicate (a) the degree to which gays should be allowed to contribute to public discourse and debate through free speech. and distribution of published materials. as asserted by Falwell: “The wicked shall be returned to hell. 2001:C3). beliefs about the Bible. as a bastion of religious freedom and fidelity to Christian teachings (Bellah 1975. asserting that their actions had turned God’s anger against America (Washington Post. Therefore. teaching in colleges. One important reason that Christian Rights activists are more willing to deny civil liberties to secular and liberal groups is because they see these groups as a major threat to America (Wilcox 1996). assembly. September 14. Following the tragedy of September 11. moral privatism. she too will face his wrath and judgment like every other nation in the history of humanity. and lifestyles. If she forgets God. unbiblical ideas. and ( b) acceptance of employment-based discrimination in positions that may allow for social esteem and intellectual influence. and attitudes about the morality of homosexuality may help to explain why conservative Protestants . attitudes about social contamination. we propose that church attendance.” (Falwell 1980:24) Those who support the conservative form of civil religion see political leaders as having a moral obligation as well as a political one (Wilcox 1996). Hypotheses In this paper. Wuthnow 1988). but it is viewed as an obligation to protect society from exposure to and perhaps temptation by immoral.CONSERVATIVE PROTESTANTISM AND TOLERANCE TOWARD HOMOSEXUALS 183 restraint appears to many conservative Protestants as a threat to the social and spiritual order.

g. ELLISON. research has consistently shown that members of conservative Protestant denominations (e. First. Because conservative Protestants attend church more frequently than other religious affiliates (Roof and McKinney 1987). Piereson. we expect to find that the association between conservative Protestant affiliation and tolerance toward homosexuals may be partially mediated by attitudes concerning the morality of homosexuality (H6). Loftus 2001. Marcus.g. Because conservative Protestants may view homosexuals as a threat to or contaminants of American society (Wilcox 1996). research shows that those who attend religious services on a regular basis tend to exhibit lower levels of tolerance (Beatty and Walter 1984). Fifth. Given that conservative Protestants are more likely to hold a literalist view of the Bible (Hunter 1987). Therefore. HILL tend to be less tolerant of homosexuals than other Americans. like homosexuals (Ellison and Musick 1993. Peterson and Donnenwerth 1998). research has noted that conservative Protestant literature often emphasizes the dangers of homosexuality for society at large (Rimmerman.. Finally. Southern Baptists. research on tolerance has demonstrated that individuals are less tolerant of groups they fear or see as threatening than they are of groups they deem benign (Green and Waxman 1987. BURDETTE. Drawing on these arguments. Perhaps biblical passages focusing on the sins of homosexual behavior create a moral absolutism that prevents acceptance of homosexuality and homosexuals alike. we expect to find that conservative Protestant affiliation is associated with greater intolerance toward homosexuals (H1). studies indicate that those who hold a literal interpretation of the Bible are less tolerant of certain controversial groups. it could be that conservative Protestants are intolerant of gays and lesbians because they tend to object to homosexuality on moral grounds. we expect to find that the association between conservative Protestant affiliation and tolerance toward homosexuals may be partially mediated by differences in church attendance (H2). Second. Fourth.. AND TERRENCE D. and Piereson 1982. Pentecostals. and Wilcox 2000. as well as other controversial groups (e. Wald. Wilcox 1996). Feldman. and Marcus 1982). Given that conservative Protestants are likely to believe that morality is a societal issue. Evangelicals) tend to be less tolerant of gays and lesbians. Third. we expect to find that the association between conservative Protestant affiliation and tolerance toward homosexuals may be partially mediated by beliefs about moral privatism (H5). Wilcox and Jelen 1990). Beatty and Walter 1984. we expect to find that the association between conservative Protestant affiliation and tolerance toward homosexuals may be partially mediated by biblical literalism (H3). Sullivan. Stouffer 1955. . Sullivan. CHRISTOPHER G.184 AMY M. we have developed six hypotheses. From the discussion above. we expect to find that the association between conservative Protestant affiliation and tolerance toward homosexuals may be partially mediated by attitudes about social contamination (H4).

Should he be allowed to speak. Methodists. Jehovah’s Witnesses. those with no religious affiliation and conservative Protestants (Southern Baptists. Biblical literalism is measured using the question: “Which of these statements comes closest to describing your feelings about the Bible?—‘The Bible is the actual word of God . Catholics. We have included other faiths to maximize our overall sample. Frequency of church attendance is measured using an item on the GSS that ranges from 0 (never) to 8 (more than once a week). and (3) biblical literalism. social contamination.84). Although we would prefer to analyze more recent data. biblical literalism. other faiths (Mormons. Using a coding scheme similar to that of Roof and McKinney (1987). Although the split-ballot design reduces our sample size. or not?”. with higher scores reflecting higher levels of tolerance. The sample size was further reduced to 848 as a result of listwise deletion of missing values. and moral privatism. (2) frequency of church attendance. Pentecostals. and (3) “If some people in your community suggested that a book he wrote in favor of homosexuality should be taken out of your public library. would you favor removing this book or not?” Responses to each item are dichotomously coded. the reference category. Because of the split-ballot design of the GSS. The resulting index ranges from 0 to 3 (alpha = .CONSERVATIVE PROTESTANTISM AND TOLERANCE TOWARD HOMOSEXUALS 185 Data We use data from the 1988 General Social Survey (GSS) to investigate the relationship between religious affiliation and tolerance toward homosexuals. Given its varied composition. Evangelicals). this is the only nationally representative data which contain all of these measures. or not?”. Presbyterians. Religious Factors There are three religious factors related to tolerance of homosexuals: (1) religious affiliation. we will not attempt to interpret the results for this grouping. religious affiliation is divided into the following categories: mainline Protestants (Lutherans. Tolerance toward Homosexuals Tolerance toward gay men is measured using an index composed of the following three items related to civil liberties continually present in the GSS: (1) “Suppose this admitted homosexual wanted to make a speech in your community. church attendance. Non-Christian faiths). The 1988 religion module provides information concerning religious affiliation. Episcopalians). the potential for sample bias is minimal because ballots are randomly assigned. only 937 of the original 1481 respondents have valid responses on the dependent variable. (2) “Should such a person be allowed to teach in a college or university.

Studies also indicate that various demographic groups differ in their levels of tolerance of homosexuality (Ellison and Musick 1993. Yang 1997). Responses were recoded so that larger numbers indicated conservative moral attitudes. legends. Moral Privatism Opinions about the nature of morality are tapped using an item that measures (dis)agreement with the following statement: “Morality is a personal matter and society should not force everyone to follow one standard. BURDETTE. 0 = white.” Responses range from 1 (agree strongly) to 4 (disagree strongly). being a native southerner (1 = native southerner. age (measured in years). political orientation (1 = extremely liberal to 7 = extremely conservative). Loftus 2001. ELLISON. 1 = other race. or ‘The Bible is an ancient book of fables. or not wrong at all?” The results were recoded so that larger numbers indicate more conservative responses. respondents were asked: “What about sexual relations between two adults of the same sex—do you think it is always wrong.” The response categories range from 1 (agree strongly) to 4 (disagree strongly). with one indicating a literal interpretation of the Bible and zero indicating the other two possible views of the Bible. Therefore. 0 = other). wrong only sometimes. history. we compare differences in the means of conservative Protestant affiliates with those of other affiliates on all . First.186 AMY M. we included controls for the following factors: years of education. Sociodemographic Controls There is a long tradition of research that suggests that religious affiliations vary greatly by demographic characteristics.2 Analytic Strategy Our analysis proceeds in two steps. ‘The Bible is the inspired word of God but not everything in it should be taken literally. AND TERRENCE D. and rural residence (1 = rural. 0 = white). gender (1 = male. race (1 = black. 0 = nonnative southerner). HILL and is to be taken literally’. Moral Objection to Homosexuality In order to measure moral objection to homosexuality. and moral precepts recorded by man. word for word’. 0 = female). almost always wrong. CHRISTOPHER G.’ ” This item was recoded into a dichotomous variable. Social Contamination Social contamination is tapped using an item that measures (dis)agreement with the following statement: “Immoral actions by one person can corrupt society in general.

We then incorporated religious affiliation (mainline Protestant. a test of parallel lines was preformed on all of the models. and native southerner) were entered into Model 1. Consistent with previous findings (Loftus 2001. thus indicating that ordinal logistic regression was the appropriate statistical method rather than multinomial logistic regression (Borooah 2002). Catholic. politically conservative. and those with no religious affiliation on our measure of social contamination. race. Model 1 contains the demographic controls thought to impact the granting of civil liberties. political views. male. Conservative Protestants report significantly higher levels of moral objection to homosexuality and significantly lower levels of tolerance as compared to all other categories of religious affiliation. conservative Protestants report higher levels than all other categories. Results Mean Comparisons Focusing on the adjusted means. gender. those respondents who are native southerners are less willing to grant civil liberties to homosexuals than those native to other parts of the United States. Members of conservative Protestant denominations also differ from mainline Protestants. Models 3 through 7 introduce a sequence of mediators. Once sociodemographic characteristics are accounted for. Model 3 includes church attendance. followed by biblical literalism in Model 4. Catholics. Second. conservative Protestants differ only from those with no religious affiliation on our measure of moral privatism. Multivariate Analysis Table 3 presents cumulative odds ratios for a series of ordered logistic regression models. female. . based on previous research.CONSERVATIVE PROTESTANTISM AND TOLERANCE TOWARD HOMOSEXUALS 187 religion variables and potential mediators (Table 2). Moral privatism was introduced in Model 6. Yang 1997). In order to determine the appropriate method of analysis. In Model 5. and no religious affiliation) into Model 2. More specifically. At no time was the test significant. With regard to biblical literalism. other faith. followed by the measure of the morality of homosexuality. Wills and Crawford 2000. and less educated. politically liberal. age. Also in accordance with earlier literature (Ellison and Musick 1993). and more educated have higher levels of tolerance toward gay men than those who are older. sequential models were estimated in which sociodemographic variables (education. we estimate a series of ordered logistic regression models to measure the effects of predictor variables on tolerance toward homosexuals. social contamination was included. those who are younger. rural residence. both mainline Protestants and those with no religious affiliation report significantly lower levels of church attendance compared to conservative Protestants.

974 3.070 3.380* 1. race.622 2. b .761 2.396*** 2.614 2.118*** 2.627** 2.588*** .105 . BURDETTE.014 3.429* 2.028 3.389* .129 .549*** 2.042 3.132*** 4.206*** 2.272*** 2.943*** .215 .254*** 2. and southern native.569*** 2.986** 4. rural residence.028*** 3.805 1.094*** 4.081*** 4.358*** 2.649 3.648*** .377*** 1.223 1.763* 2. ELLISON.030 3.565 . age.460*** 2.05.798 2. gender.549*** . *p < .118*** 1.629 1.01.500* 2.525*** .001. CHRISTOPHER G.203*** 2. ***p < .513 .307*** 2.188 AMY M.675** 2.136 . Controlling for education.070 3. HILL Table 2 Unadjusted and Adjusted Means Comparing Religious Affiliations on Key Variablesa Conservative Protestants Unadjusted means Church attendance Biblical literalism Social contamination Moral privatism Moral objection to homosexuality Tolerance toward homosexuals Adjusted meansb Church attendance Biblical literalism Social contamination Moral privatism Moral objection to homosexuality Tolerance toward homosexuals a Mainline Protestants Catholic Other Faiths No Affiliation 4.209*** 2.431 4. AND TERRENCE D.439** 1.333*** 2. political views. **p < .239*** 2.694 2.511** 2.053* 3.936*** Asterisks (*) indicate differences from conservative Protestants.

we find no support for our fifth hypothesis (H5). those with no religious affiliation exhibit an increase in the cumulative odds of tolerance that is over four times that of conservative Protestants. In support for our fourth hypothesis (H4). conservative Protestants are less tolerant than mainline Protestants. we find that social contamination helps to explain an additional 10 percent of the difference between conservative Protestants and mainline Protestants (a total of 84 percent from Model 2). Whereas church attendance accounted for only a trivial portion of the difference between conservative Protestants and Catholics.3 According to Model 3. we find that those who believe that the actions of an individual can contaminate society in general are less tolerant of homosexuals than those who believe otherwise. church attendance helps to explain 16 percent of the variance between conservative Protestants and mainline Protestants and 22 percent of the variance between conservative Protestants and those with no religious affiliation. we find that church attendance helps to explain some of the effect of conservative Protestantism on tolerance toward homosexuals. Model 7 tests whether attitudes concerning the morality of homosexuality mediate the effect of conservative Protestantism on tolerance toward homosexuals (H6). Catholics.CONSERVATIVE PROTESTANTISM AND TOLERANCE TOWARD HOMOSEXUALS 189 Also consistent with previous research. whether or not people agree that morality is a personal matter does little to explain the effect of conservative Protestantism on tolerance toward homosexuals. It should also be noted that social contamination does little to explain the differences between conservative Protestants and Catholics and those who report no religious affiliation. In fact. More specifically. In support of our second hypothesis (H2). We find that attitudes concerning the morality of homosexuality . Moving on to Model 4. As one would expect. As shown in Model 2. church attendance does little to explain the difference between conservative Protestants and Catholics. and those with no religious affiliation (H1). biblical literalism helps to explain approximately 50 percent of the difference (a total of 52 percent from Model 2). Model 6 adds moral privatism to the regression equation. this effect is entirely mediated by the introduction of biblical literalism in Model 4. moral privatism is a significant predictor of tolerance. With the addition of social contamination in Model 5. Although church attendance is initially related to lower levels of tolerance toward homosexuals (Model 3). That is. we find that biblical literalism is associated with about a 70 percent reduction in the cumulative odds of tolerance toward homosexuals. In support of our third hypothesis (H3). However. we find that biblical literalism also helps to explain the effect of conservative Protestantism. biblical literalism accounts for an additional 58 percent of the difference between conservative Protestants and mainline Protestants (a total of 74 percent from Model 2) and 17 percent of the difference between conservative Protestants and those with no religious affiliation (a total of 39 percent from Model 2).

attitudes concerning the morality of homosexuality help to explain a small portion of the difference between conservative Protestants and mainline Protestants and those with no religious affiliation. Catholics. biblical literalism is by far the most influential mediator included in these analyses. Discussion and Conclusion Although popular television shows (e. 2003). and 48 percent of the difference between conservative Protestants and those with no religious affiliation. . and those with no religious affiliation. 55 percent of the difference between conservative Protestants and Catholics. AND TERRENCE D. social contamination helps to explain differences between conservative Protestants and mainline Protestants. recent trends in attitudes toward gay marriage reflect a resistance among Americans to grant gays and lesbians full access to civil liberties (USA Today. Third. Recent debates within the Episcopal Church over the approval of the first gay bishop reveal that even among more liberal Protestants. conservative Protestants tend to be less tolerant of homosexuals than mainline Protestants. but not Catholics. the results of our multivariate analysis suggest several important points. Fourth. but an opposition to the role that homosexuals play in society. BURDETTE. moral privatism does not help to explain why conservative Protestants tend to be less tolerant of homosexuals than other Americans. To summarize..190 AMY M. the most consistent opposition to homosexuals has come from conservative Protestant denominations. Fifth. Finally. ELLISON. Although other Protestant denominations have struggled with the place of gays and lesbians within the church. but not Catholics. accounting for over half of the difference between conservative Protestants and mainline Protestants and Catholics. First. debates over homosexuality continue. the constellation of mediators proposed and tested in this paper account for an astounding 90 percent of the difference between conservative Protestants and mainline Protestants. “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy”. church attendance helps to explain differences between conservative Protestants and mainline Protestants and those with no religious affiliation. but not Catholics or those with no religious affiliation. July 1. HILL help to explain an additional 6 percent of the difference between conservative Protestants and mainline Protestants (a total of 90 percent from Model 2) and 5 percent of the difference between conservative Protestants and those with no religious affiliation (a total of 48 percent from Model 2). CHRISTOPHER G. and nearly 20 percent of the difference between conservative Protestants and those with no religious affiliation. Sixth. It should be stressed that the effects for biblical literalism are over and above the significant mediating influence of church attendance.g. Conservative Protestant attitudes about granting basic civil liberties to gays reflect more than a simple moral objection to homosexual behavior. Second. “Will and Grace”) reflect a growing acceptance of gay men in mainstream American culture.

701 −.01.146* .388** 1.621* 2.001.750 −.564** .947 .494 1.312 848 22.Table 3 Odds Ratios for Ordered Logistic Regression of Tolerance toward Homosexuals on Selected Predictors CONSERVATIVE PROTESTANTISM AND TOLERANCE TOWARD HOMOSEXUALS 191 Model 1 Education Age Black Other race Female Political views Rural residence Native southerner Mainline Protestant Catholic Other Faith No Religious Affiliation Church attendance Biblical literalism Social contamination Moral privatism Moral objection to homosexuality Cutpoint 1 Cutpoint 2 Cutpoint 3 N Likelihood Ratio 1.164 .981*** 1.321 .987 1.923 .367** 1.910*** Model 4 1.362 . .966 .277 −2.151 2.894 848 398.713 .322*** 1.296*** Model 5 1.727*** Model 6 1.780** 2.769*** .132 2.699*** .450*** Model 2 1.588*** 1.980 .162 1.205*** .153*** .551** .984*** 1.385 −1.460 −.862** .633** 1. ***p < .461 .315* .982*** 1.621** 1.335*** .061 1.379 4.930 .329** 1.384 1.325 .300** 1.649** 1.503*** 2.157 .983*** 1.595 −.984*** 1.991 −.674 *p < .225*** .983*** 1.825 .272*** 1.624** 1.370** 1.708*** .336* .981*** 1.915 .690* .329* .391*** .096 1.282*** .249 .261 −.05.823*** .687* .699*** .140 2.456** .442 1.279*** 1.264*** . **p < .684* .234*** .837* Model 7 1.100 1.232 848 253.254 −1.235*** .740*** .469 1.299 .886* .590** 1.164 848 264.266*** .854* .460 1.663* .683* .526 −1.468 1.403 3.326*** .503** .738 .448 848 340.275 848 320.613 −1.954 .150 2.005 .985 .303** 1.731 2.349 848 345.198 −2.437 .403*** Model 3 1.

between aversion to the behavior of certain groups and intolerance. internally heterogeneous population. This is particularly true when these outside groups are viewed as a threat to “traditional” American values.” may have no qualms about restricting the rights of these individuals.g. If an individual believes that he or she already has access to moral truths (i. Individuals who are most receptive to alarmist’s messages concerning the “gay agenda” and its potential threat to American society seem to be most willing to restrict the civil liberties of homosexuals. there is little to be gained... In addition. compared to others. our findings suggest otherwise. those most active within the conservative Protestant community. Depictions of this group as a cultural or political monolith have done a grave disservice to our understanding of the impact of conservative Protestant affiliation on family issues. ELLISON. as demonstrated by certain interpretations of the Bible as well as high levels of church attendance. CHRISTOPHER G. by greater exposure to controversial outsiders. and perhaps much to be lost. As noted by Gay. conservative Protestant groups are indeed less willing grant basic civil liberties. a fundamental tenet of American democracy. and Powers (1996) conservative Protestants constitute a diverse. or among religious extremists. As debates rage over gay marriage. BURDETTE. it appears that the combination of endorsing a literal interpretation of the Bible and perceiving certain individuals as social contaminates explains increased rates of intolerance among conservative Protestants toward gays and lesbians. It is also important to note that higher rates of intolerance do not exist solely among religious elites. appear to . These findings serve as a chilling reminder to variations in allegiance to the marketplace of ideas. Hunter 1984. AND TERRENCE D. both theoretically and empirically. It appears that conservative Protestants are more comfortable than other Americans with denying gays and lesbians even basic civil liberties such as freedom of speech. it is notable that a sizable contingent exists that would prefer to restrict homosexuals from even basic participation in American society. Not all conservative Protestants are intolerant toward homosexuals.e. despite the recent focus on debates within mainline Protestant denominations (Hartman 1996. It may be that the moral absolutism endorsed by some religious communities presents an irresolvable conflict with democratic values. It appears that even when negative feelings toward homosexuality are taken into account.192 AMY M. Ellison. however. Therefore. biblical texts). These findings highlight the validity of distinguishing. Smith 2000) have asserted that conservative Protestants are not intolerant toward controversial groups like gays and lesbians. including homosexuality. Those who see gays and lesbians as a danger to America’s legitimacy as part of “God’s plan. White and White 2003). but are present among conservative Protestant laypersons. HILL Several scholars (e. both scholarly and journalistic accounts show that debates over homosexuality are taking place within conservative Protestant churches. In fact.

The first limitation of these data is related to the time period during which they were collected. While the General Social Survey may provide the best measures for examining the relationship between religious affiliation and tolerance of gay men. and Kenski (1990) note. it was during the 1980s that AIDS first came to the attention of many Americans. Sigelman. Sigelman. born-again Christians appeared to be particularly fearful of those with AIDS. Consistent with previous research (Loftus 2001.CONSERVATIVE PROTESTANTISM AND TOLERANCE TOWARD HOMOSEXUALS 193 be most willing to restrict the civil liberties of homosexuals.. As noted previously. religion plays an important role in the lives of many gays and lesbians. sample size restrictions prevented a more specific investigation. According to one study. but is also code for holding certain social and moral values established within the group. this research provides insight into the complex relationship between religious affiliation and tolerance of homosexuals. As AIDS was first largely seen as a disease of gay men. gay men in particular are more . these data come from the 1988 version of the GSS. However. Peterson and Donnenwerth 1998) there was a liberalizing trend in granting civil liberties to gay men.e. Although the GSS does provide detailed information on denominational affiliation. Ancillary analysis (not shown) was conducted using data from the 2002 General Social Survey on variables used in this research. guided by pastors and other religious elites. future research should investigate conservative Protestant denominational variation in order to fully understand the roles of social contamination and moral privatism in predicting tolerance of gay men. it does have certain restrictions. with the exceptions of items only asked in 1988 (i. social contamination). Second. moral privatism. Although a few studies (Beatty and Walter 1984. there is a lack of research on the role of specific religious beliefs. Additionally. for which there were additional questions asked concerning religious beliefs and practices. Wilcox and Jelen 1990) have examined denominational variation in relation to overall tolerance. it has no doubt had an impact on the attitudes of respondents questioned during this time period. and church attendance remain consistently related to intolerance of gay men. Therefore. Although these questions provided the necessary information for this research. Despite the limitations of the data. being more likely than others to favor a quarantine of those with the disease. biblical literalism. There are several limitations of these data that should be addressed. the 1980s were marked by a sharp increase in religiously conservative beliefs that led to more negative attitudes toward homosexuality. As Le Poire. As scholars have noted. conservative Protestants affiliation. having a literal interpretation of the Bible does not just imply following the word itself. Yang 1997). Opposition to homosexuality may be solidified through interpretive communities. and a decrease in tolerance of gays and lesbians (Loftus 2001.

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