The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

Understanding Christian Social Work LGBT Advocacy: Research On Social Change Efforts By An Unrecognized Population Group

Saturday, January 18, 2014: 5:30 PM
Marriott Riverwalk, Alamo Ballroom Salon F, 2nd Floor Elevator Level BR (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Rene Drumm, PhD, Professor, Southern Adventist University, Collegedale, TN
Kristie Kristie Wilder, JD, Assistant Professor, Southern Adventist University, Collegedale, TN
Evie Nogales Baker, MSW, Associate Professor, Southern Adventist University, Collegedale, TN
Background and Purpose

While social work history provides solid evidence of Christian social worker advocacy on behalf of many disenfranchised groups, the more recent relationship between Christian social workers and LGBT advocacy has been less clear.  The perception exists that Christian social workers are lacking in their advocacy for LGBT individuals.  One explanation for this perceived deficiency within Christian social work advocacy centers on the traditional Christian teaching that designates same-sex behavior as sinful.  While researchers note an association between holding a Christian affiliation and negative biases toward lesbians and gay men, little research has been done to understand how those biases may impact social work practice.  When Christian social workers bridge the gap between traditional Christian beliefs and LGBT advocacy, how does that occur?

Study Objectives

This study investigates Christian social workers’ journeys as social change agents on behalf of LGBT individuals and notes strategies Christian social workers use to become LBGT advocates.

Research Questions

(1)  How do Christian social workers come to identify themselves as LGBT advocates?

(2)   How do personal beliefs affect the types of social work advocacy in which these social workers engage?

(3)  What types of advocacy behaviors do Christian social workers engage in on behalf of LGBT individuals?


The study design used a qualitative in-depth interview approach.  The participants consisted of 20 individuals recruited through purposive and snowball sampling.  Each participant identified as (1) an LGBT advocate, (2) a Christian, and (3) a social worker.

Data were collected utilizing an open-ended interview guide, conducting digitally recorded interviews either face-to-face or over the phone.  The interviews ranged from 20 to 90 minutes and were subsequently transcribed for data analysis.

Researchers analyzed the data by coding participant themes using the constant-comparative method.  Following individual coding, researchers examined specific instances of the codes as a team to clarify similarities and differences between researchers’ use of these codes.


The collective reflections of the interviewed Christian social workers reveal how the participants’ conceptualization of sexual orientation evolved, their developmental thinking about theological issues surrounding sexual orientation, and the various types of advocacy activities in which they engaged in their social work practice.  Specifically, participants (1) gained new understandings about how sexual orientation develops, (2) came to understand that sexual orientation was much more complex than previously believed, (3) worked to reconcile their traditional theological beliefs with their new understandings, and (4) engaged in a full range of advocacy behaviors from micro to macro services.

Conclusions and Implications

The findings point to common elements that work together to create a commitment to LGBT advocacy among a group of people who are often invisible in this social change movement.  Understanding the pathways and mechanisms of advocacy opens the way to promoting LGBT advocacy on a wider scale.  Future research efforts are needed to determine how widespread advocacy efforts are by Christian social workers and their level of effectiveness on behalf of LGBT individuals.