A RECENT Gallup poll reveals that church membership in the U.S. has been dropping like a rock over the past two decades, and that could be good news for LGBT rights.. Twenty years ago, seventy percent of Americans said that they were members of a church, but today that number is just fifty percent. Moreover, the decline seems to be accelerating. More than half the drop has occurred since the current decade began. And even evangelical sects are not exempt from the shrinking numbers, though mainstream Protestant branches have declined more precipitously.
What’s happening is not just that people are less likely to belong to a church than before; they’re not attending services as often, either. Suffering an especially large decline is the Catholic Church (probably due to the priest sex scandal), where fewer than four in ten members attend church in any given week. And more Americans say that they don’t belong to any organized religion. In 1999, the number who identified as having no religion stood at eight percent, but just ten years later it’s up to twenty percent. Other surveys put the number of unchurched Americans at closer to a third of the population.
These numbers have dramatic ramifications for LGBT rights. People with no religious affiliation are much more likely to support marriage equality, for example, than is any church-going group. This correlation presumably extends to other LGBT issues as well. Indeed it seems clear that changes in attitudes toward LGBT people over the past twenty years have tended to run in tandem with this secularizing trend.
As an aside: it is an irony of the current race for the Democratic nomination that the candidate who is talking the most about religion in public life is the gay one, Pete Buttigieg. Compounding the irony is that the people who are most receptive to him as a candidate are probably people with no religious affiliation.
The flipside of secularization is that it produces a backlash, as fears arise (and are stoked) among conservative Christians that their world is disappearing. That makes them push even harder to roll back the LGBT community’s gains while they still have a chance.
The religious Right has tacitly acknowledged the problem it has with the shrinking number of believers in the U.S. That’s why its leading evangelists are looking overseas for more fertile venues to peddle their hate. It’s comparable to the efforts of tobacco companies turning to developing nations for new markets to make up for losses in the U.S. It’s a different product, but both can be deadly in their effects.
John Gallagher is a writer for LGBTQNation, from which this opinion piece was adapted.