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

16839 The Influence of Religious Teachings about Homosexuality: College Students' Attitudes Toward Gays and Lesbians

Saturday, January 14, 2012: 4:30 PM
Latrobe (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Jill Chonody, PhD, Lecturer, University of South Australia, Adelaide, Australia
Scott Smith, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of North Texas, Denton, TX
Michael R. Woodford, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Ann Arbor, MI
Perry Silverschanz, PhD, Faculty, School of Social Work & Department of Psychology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Ann Arbor, MI
Background. Attitudes toward gays and lesbians (GL) are an important topic for social scientists and policy makers. Religion is generally thought to be an influential factor in regard to attitudes toward GL. The vast of majority of mainstream religious denominations have specific doctrine and teachings about GL, most taking an unsupportive stance. Although considerable attention has been given to the role of religion in studies about attitudes toward GL, analysis is often limited to religious domination and religiosity (i.e., importance of religion in one's life; Walls, 2010). Researchers have tended to overlook the role of actual religious teachings or messages that are given about homosexuality. Furthermore, no studies to date have investigated the role of social contact with GL in moderating these messages. The purpose of this study is to explore the relationship between religious teachings about homosexuality and attitudes toward GL. We hypothesize that contact with gay, lesbian, and bisexual (GLB) individuals will moderate negative church messages about homosexuality on attitudes toward GL.

Methods. Data were collected from students (n = 851) at four geographically diverse universities with accredited social work programs. The paper-and-pencil surveys were collected during regular class periods, and the instrument package included the short form of the Attitudes Toward Lesbians and Gays scale (ATLG-S) and a demographic questionnaire, which included survey questions regarding contact with GLB friends or family, religious denomination, religiosity (importance of religion in daily life and extent to which it guides personal beliefs), and religious message about homosexuality (accepting to not accepting on a 10-point scale).

Results. This study tested whether the number of GLB friends moderated the relationship between the type of message one's church disseminates about homosexuality and attitudes toward GL using logistic regression. While controlling for demographic factors (age, race, gender, and religious affiliation) and religiosity, the results indicated that the number of friends significantly moderated an individual's scores on the ATLG given the type of message with an adjusted model (β= .544; R2=- .296). The R2 was significant at .011, and a significant change in F occurred (.005). Although this is not a large change, results indicated that when the number of GLB friends was high, participants who attended services with a less accepting message toward homosexuality were less likely to have score highly on the ATLG-S. This suggests that they had lower levels of antigay bias compared to those participants with fewer GLB friends.

Implications. This research adds to the literature by showing how relationships with GLB may mitigate negative religious messages and thus influence attitudes towards GL. Pedagogical interventions, such as GLB peer-panels or inter-group dialogue, may be appropriate ways to create contact for students and thus help them to think critically about anti-GL church teachings and move toward more accepting attitudes. Future research should seek to further clarify the relationship between religious doctrine and attitudes toward GL.

Walls, N. E. (2010). Religion and support for same-sex marriage: Implications from the literature. Journal of Gay & Lesbian Social Services, 22, 112-131.

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