Fewer Americans are claiming a religious affiliation these days, but those who do are preaching a more progressive faith regarding LGBT issues, according to a new survey from the Pew Research Center.
In a study released on Tuesday, Pew researchers reported that an increasing number of Americans aren’t claiming a religious affiliation, and that the percentage of people who say they believe in God, pray daily, or regularly attend worship services has declined in recent years. Researchers say this is partially due to the rise of the religiously unaffiliated, a group of mostly young people who are sometimes called “nones” because of how they answer questions about religious identification; they now account for 23 percent of the adult population, a seven-point increase since 2007, according to the study.
Authors of the report were quick to note that “nones” are not necessarily irreligious in the traditional sense, as some claim to pray daily or even attend religious services regularly. Yet even this small sub-group has shrunk since 2007, with fewer claiming any connection to religious communities or practices.
But even as a growing number of Americans distance themselves from religious belief, the nonreligious are also finding some common ideological ground with people of faith — politically speaking. According to the survey, nonreligious Americans are overwhelmingly progressive, most aligning themselves with the Democratic Party. Yet among the three-quarters of U.S. adults that still claim a religion, virtually every major faith group is moving to embrace progressive values — especially acceptance of homosexuality and LGBT rights.
“Nearly all major religious groups have become significantly more accepting of homosexuality in recent years — even groups, such as evangelicals and Mormons, that traditionally have expressed strong opposition to same-sex relationships,” the report reads.
This can be seen in the wave of Christian groups that have voted to embrace same-sex marriage in over the past few years, such as Presbyterian Church (USA) and the Episcopal Church. Meanwhile, factions of the United Methodist Church are pushing for a more LGBT-inclusive denomination, and even churches within the Southern Baptist Convention are shifting their stances on homosexuality — albeit with significant pushback from their religious authorities. And while the Catholic Church officially condemns same-sex relationships, the average Catholic is actually more progressive on marriage equality than the average American.
Indeed, the next generation of theological conservatives has already shifted on the issue: half of millennials who identify as evangelical Protestants now say homosexuality should be accepted by society.
Meanwhile, people who claim a religion are reportedly holding steady in terms of religious practice, with no discernible dip in terms of worship attendance or daily prayer life.
The result is a slow-motion realignment among the country’s political left-wing, which now arguably houses the most and least religious Americans under the same political umbrella. Although religious Americans still make up nearly three-quarters of Democrats and “Democratic-leaning” adults, there are now more “nones” in the group than Catholics, mainline Protestants, evangelical Protestants, or members of the historically black Protestant tradition. In total, three-in-ten Democrats now say they have no religion — a nine-point spike in seven years. Even Republicans are seeing an increase of “nones,” albeit in a much more modest way: they remain less numerous than Catholics, mainline Protestants, and evangelical Protestants within the GOP.
CREDIT: Andrew Breiner
While the proportion of liberal people of faith is projected to grow over time, this shift among progressives doesn’t necessarily translate into an immediate windfall for Democrats, however. Although growing numbers of religious Americans are aligned with “nones” in the pursuit of some progressive policies, religiously unaffiliated people are notably less involved in the political process than their spiritual counterparts. According to the study, 71 percent of adults who claim a religion are registered to vote, compared to just 62 percent of “nones.”
This is likely because many “nones” are young people, a group that typically exhibits lower registration rates. But researchers note that there is still the issue of voter turnout: 12 percent of voters identified themselves as religiously unaffiliated in the 2012 presidential election, which was identical to the share in 2008 and only slightly higher than the shares in 2004 (10 percent) and 2000 (9 percent).
Meanwhile, the survey’s trends do not point to a more progressive American populace on all issues. While some groups such as historically Black Protestants were more likely to agree that “stricter environmental laws and regulations are worth the cost,” (58 percent in 2014 compared to 52 percent in 2007), most are now modestly less likely to say the same — including the religiously unaffiliated (although most Americans support tougher regulations overall). Most groups were also less likely to say they prefer a bigger government with more services, and many denominations were either unmoved on the issue of abortion or slightly more likely to say it should be illegal in all cases. Only “nones,” Muslims, Jehovah’s witnesses, and respondents affiliated with historically black Protestant denominations were less likely to say so.