Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

16626 Sexual Prejudice Among Christian College Students: Examining the Role of Personal Beliefs about Church Teachings

Saturday, January 14, 2012: 4:30 PM
Latrobe (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Michael R. Woodford, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Ann Arbor, MI
Denise L. Levy, PhD, LCSW, Assistant Professor, Appalachian State University, Boone, NC
Perry Silverschanz, PhD, Faculty, School of Social Work & Department of Psychology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Ann Arbor, MI
Religion is often viewed as a driving force behind prejudice toward sexual minorities. Research demonstrates a positive association between various Christian affiliations, religiosity—both the importance of religion in one's life and the frequency of attendance in religious services—and sexual prejudice (Hicks & Lee, 2006; Jenkins et al., 2009; Morrison et al., 2009; Whitley, 2009). Few studies have delved into the attitudes of Christian individuals. Further, the relationship between one's church's teachings about homosexuality and one's personal beliefs has been overlooked (Walls, 2010). “Everyday theologies” refers captures the phenomenon that one's beliefs about homosexuality may differ from one's church's doctrine (Moon, 2004). Faith identity theories (Fowler, 1981) suggest that a person may not necessarily embrace church teachings as their faith identity develops.

This study explored sexual prejudice among U.S. Christian heterosexual college students and the role of religion-related variables, including everyday theologies. This is the first study to quantitatively investigate everyday theologies.

Data were drawn from a cross-sectional campus climate study conducted at a Midwestern university. All sophomore and junior undergraduates (N=11,342) and 8,000 randomly selected graduate students were invited to participate. 2,268 students completed the survey (RR=13%). For this study, the sample is limited to heterosexual domestic students who identify as Baptist, Episcopalian, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, or Roman Catholic (other Christian denominations were too small for inclusion).

A nine-item attitudes toward sexual minorities scale (ATSM scale; α=.90) was created (theoretical range 1 – 7; higher score reflects more affirming views). To measure everyday theologies, two variables using a seven-point Likert scale were created (“my own beliefs about homosexuality are fairly consistent with what my religion teaches” and “my religion's core teachings about homosexuality see it as a sin”) and an interaction variable was created. We performed hierarchical OLS regression predicting attitudes toward sexual minorities. Predictors included demographics, religious affiliation, importance of religion, frequency of participation in services, and the three everyday theologies variables.

The sample (n=749) was primarily female (68%), white (84%), undergraduates (64%), Roman Catholic (55%), with an average age of 23 years (SD=6.26). The mean score for the ATSM scale was 4.83 (SD=1.21).

The final model investigated whether one's attitudes were moderated by the interaction between church teachings on homosexuality and whether or not the respondent agrees with those teachings. The interaction item (ß=-.16, p<.001) explained 2% of the variance (F(1,679)=29.08, p<.001). Main effects for whether one's religion teaches that homosexuality is a sin (ß=-.11, p<.001) and the consistency of personal views in relation to church teachings about homosexuality (ß=-.54, p<.001) remained significant (as did age and sex). The final model explained 49% of the variance.

This study demonstrates the need to look beyond religious affiliation and religiosity and to consider individual beliefs in relation to church teachings. Essentialist claims about particular religious communities and their views about sexual minorities are ill-advised. In clinical and macro interventions with Christian individuals, exploring everyday theologies will help workers to understand the individual's worldview about sexual minorities. Providing safe spaces for questioning church doctrine may be beneficial.