Monday, June 11, 2007

How many Christians are gay?

(Post 9 in a series)

(I posted these data in January, but I thought that I would repost them here as part of this series on Christians sexual behavior.)

The question: how many people, including Christians, are gay? (For discussion of terminology).

As background, in the 1940s, Alfred Kinsey and colleagues published a report claiming that about 10% of men are or had been exclusively gay. Though still cited, this statistic has been discredited. (For a discussion, see Joel Best, Damned Lies and Statistics, pp. 88-93). The most reliable estimates place the rate of same-sex orientation (depending on how it is measured) in the general population at from 1-4% (higher rates for any same-sex experience). See here and here. So, if there are about 200 million adults in the U.S., this means that from 2 - 8 million are gay.

To look at rates of sexual orientation among Christians, I used data from the National Survey of Midlife Development in the United States (MIDUS), 1995-1996. It sampled several thousand Americans aged 25-76, and it asked the following question:

How would you describe your sexual orientation? Would you say you are heterosexual (sexually attracted only to the opposite sex), homosexual (sexually attracted only to your own sex), or bisexual (sexually attracted to both men and women)?

Here are the rates by religious affiliation and activity. As per previous analyses in my divorce series, I define "frequent" as attending church about once a week or more often.

  • Frequent black protestant (n=90) 100.0% hetero-, 0% homo-, 0% bisexual
  • Frequent protestant (670) 99.1, 0.3, 0.6
  • Infrequent black protestant (88) 98.9, 0.0, 1.1
  • Frequent Catholic (413) 98.8, 0.7, 0.5
  • All respondents (3552) 97.3, 1.4, 1.3
  • Frequent other religion (73) 97.2, 1.4, 1.4
  • Infrequent Catholic (558) 97.1, 1.1, 1.8
  • Infrequent protestant (993) 96.9, 1.8, 1.3
  • Infrequent other religion (216) 95.8, 1.4, 2.8
  • No religion (363) 93.4, 4.1, 2.5

A caution in interpreting cross-sectional data

These data suggest the possibility that most Christians have relatively infrequent contact with gay people. I wonder if, and how, the controversy in the church about sexual orientation would change if Christians had regular, personal contact with gays, especially those who profess Christianity.

Next: Christians and frequency of orgasms


marc said...

I think it would change dramatically. All the out-gay people in our denomination have left it, including the gay pastors.

Possibly the first step toward inclusivity is to actually use the word "gay" and not ostracize people by making sexual preference sound like a health condition. I see the word "homosexual" and I run away out of fear. So thank you for saying "gay Christians," that's a phrase rarely heard.

Also, looking at this poll I think that some folks are lying. Maybe they fear that someone somewhere will detect their identity even if it is an anonymous survey.

brewright said...

I went ahead and dropped the term "homosexual" where it's not necessary. Thanks.

Corey said...

Brad Wrote:
I wonder if, and how, the controversy in the church about sexual orientation would change if Christians had regular, personal contact with gays, especially those who profess Christianity.

I think it would have to change in some way, shape, or form. The current discourse seems to be rooted in abstraction. As human beings we react to abstractions differently than we react to real people with names and faces.

Dottie said...

For some reason I happen to have known several gay Christian men, and no two of them have responded to their orientation the same way. One has stayed in the church and chosen celibacy; another has stayed in the church and chosen to pursue relationships with other men; one has embraced his gay identity and abandoned his Christian one; and another kept his orientation hidden until a position of power in his church allowed him to sexually harrass and abuse boys and young men. He was disciplined by the church and is now facing several lawsuits.

The different experiences and choices of these men makes me believe that there is wider discussion to be had, even in the most conservative churches, about sexuality and desire.

Dottie said...

I should clarify that the man who abused his power obviously had other things going on that just a same-sex orientation.

And oh, there is another man I know who has gone through counseling in a thus far unsuccessful attempt to change his orientation.

Benjamin said...

I know it is a bit beyond the scope of this blog, but there are a number of different questions that need to be asked when it comes to this issue (and almost any issue like it) in the context of Christianity/ministry. It is also important that the questions be answered in this order:

(1) Theology -- what does the Bible (in its entirety) say about the issue. This, of course, is often more complicated in many cases than it might seem. Good exegesis and interpretation is tough.

(2) Pastoral -- given what the Bible says (step #1), how do we apply this in a way that is faithful to the text and also helpful to the individual.

(3) Ministry -- what are the implications in the church in terms of leadership, teaching, policy, etc.

It can be a very tough balance getting these three right but it is very dangerous when we skip or ignore one of these steps.

Obviously these apply primarily to people and issues within the church (who self-identify as Christians). The issues/process changes a bit when considering issues/people outside the context of the church.

Marion said...

If there are, at most, only 8 million gays in the US, how could Christians have "regular, personal contact" with them? Wouldn't that require every gay person in the country to have "regular, personal contact" with at least 100 people? This is putting an awfully heavy burden on gays!

Jay Livingston said...

I wonder if, and how, the controversy in the church about sexual orientation would change if Christians had regular, personal contact with gays, especially those who profess Christianity.

Contact usually reduces rejection. I'm blogging today about this in relation to the faculty/Evangelical data you posted. I'm pretty sure there are data on contact and attitude regarding gays. Ditto for immigration.