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02 March 2012

The Varying Rates of Progressivization for American Religious Traditions: Attitudes about Same-sex Relations over Time Pt. 2

In the previous post, I presented the results of multinomial logit regression showing that the most conservative religious traditions are seeing changes in their opinions on same-sex relations come more slowly than more progressive traditions. Why might that be?

According to Subcultural Identity Theory, religion survives and can thrive in pluralistic, modern society by embedding itself in subcultures that offer satisfying morally orienting collective identities that provide adherents meaning and belonging. In a pluralistic society, those religious groups will be relatively stronger which better possess and employ the cultural tools needed to create both clear distinction from and significant engagement and tension with other relevant groups, short of becoming genuinely countercultural. This is precisely what Evangelical Protestantism does. This analysis, however, points toward some future date when Evangelicals will no longer be able to stave off the influences of the secular mainstream culture. At this time, Evangelicalism will lose its relative strength and will begin to resemble the very traditions over which it has enjoyed so much success in the post-World War II era; indeed, we suggest that Evangelicals are doomed to the same decline that has befallen Mainline Protestants over the last 60 years. Without the distinction and tension created by holding non-mainstream beliefs about contentious issues like homosexuality, Evangelicalism will find it increasingly difficult to maintain its subcultural identity. Indeed, much of the discussion within Evangelical circles today revolves around negotiating the edges of these tribal boundaries.

Evangelicals define their subculture purely in religious terms. Jews, unlike Evangelicals, have a historical ethnic identity that they can separate from religious belief and behavior. Whereas Evangelicals have maintained their achieved identity through particular belief, Jews are able to maintain their ascribed identity with little concerted effort, thus freeing them from dogmatic dictates about Culture War battles. Unlike any of the other religious traditions, Jews are not burdened with the requirement to adhere to an orthodox set of beliefs. In short, Jews are more progressive in their views and continue to progressivize so quickly because they can do so without sacrificing solidarity. As noted above, groups like Mainline Protestants have become more progressive to the detriment of their social cohesion.

If this is true, then why are Jews outpacing non-affiliates in their progressivization? One might assume that non-affiliates, being completely unbound by a prescribed set of beliefs, would be the most progressive. Essentially, though, non-affiliates are not a group. We define their “membership” by their lack of membership.

Surprisingly, Black Protestants, whom others have described as resembling white Evangelicals in their beliefs on social and family issues, appear more closely aligned with Mainline Protestants, Catholics, and the nebulous others in both their overarching attitudes about same-sex relations and the speed with which they are progressivizing in these attitudes. If we omit the control variable for race, Black Protestants do indeed more closely resemble Evangelicals. Moreover, the predicted probability of agreeing that same-sex relations are always wrong for Black Protestants who are black (N= 2,498) is 70% compared to 57% for Black Protestants who are not black (N=106). The predicted probability of agreeing that same-sex relations are not wrong at all for Black Protestants who are black is 20% compared to 29% for Black Protestants who are not black. It seems, then, that it is being black more than belonging to the Black Protestant tradition that makes people less progressive in this sense.

UPDATE: This is part of a working paper, looking for a home.

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