Americans are nearly evenly divided on whether they believe homosexual behavior is a sin, a new survey showed.
While 48 percent of Americans agree it is a sin, 45 percent said they don't believe homosexuality is sinful, according to a LifeWay Research study, released Wednesday.
Although those who are religiously affiliated were more likely to call homosexual behavior sinful, the director of the research group cautions that there are still many believers who don't view the behavior as sin.
The study showed that 61 percent of Protestants believe homosexuality is sinful compared to 31 percent who don't. Among born-again, evangelical or fundamentalist Americans, 79 percent say it is sinful while 17 percent do not believe it is.
"Seventeen percent in that latter category may seem low compared to the others, but considering these people consider themselves born-again, evangelical, or fundamentalist, it reminds us of the need for clear biblical teaching on the issue in our community," said Ed Stetzer, director of LifeWay Research, in the report.
"We did not develop our views of sexuality because we flipped a coin or took a poll," he noted. "We believe the teaching of Scripture is clear that monogamous, heterosexual marriage is God's best for people, culture and society."
Stetzer also called it surprising to find that the majority of Catholics (55 percent) do not believe homosexual behavior is a sin. Only 39 percent of Catholics called it a sin.
Catholics were also most likely to say same-sex attraction is inevitable and determined at birth. Thirty percent of Catholics said that that is what contributes most to homosexuality compared to 20 percent of Protestants, 12 percent of born agains, and 24 percent of Americans overall.
The born-again, evangelical, fundamentalist group (48 percent) is most likely to believe homosexuality is a choice while 42 percent of Protestants, 41 percent of Catholics and 39 percent of Americans agree, saying "choice" is what contributes most to same-sex attraction.
As debate continues over homosexuality and many churches struggle to address the issue, the LifeWay survey found that what a church teaches about homosexuality can greatly impact a person's decision on whether to visit or join the church.
According to survey results, 32 percent of Americans said that if the church they were considering visiting or joining taught that homosexual behavior was sinful, it would negatively impact their decision. Meanwhile, 29 percent of Americans said that it would positively impact their decision.
"It's clear we have a challenging but essential task," Stetzer commented. "We need to strive to show the love of Christ, while upholding the standard of Scripture, to those who struggle with same-sex attraction."
Many churches have begun to shift from preaching condemnation to showing love to homosexuals while still not compromising their belief that homosexuality is a sin.
In recent years, the Southern Baptist Convention - the largest Protestant denomination in the country - created a task force that would inform, educate and encourage Southern Baptists to be proactive in reaching out to those struggling with same-sex attractions. Bob Stith, who heads the task force, said many, including himself, have harbored a negative and judgmental attitude toward homosexuals and he now wants to encourage fellow Baptists to give a biblical yet compassionate response to homosexuality.
Still, the large Protestant group still has a ways to go when reaching homosexuals.
Tim Wilkins, a Southern Baptist and former homosexual, claims the denomination has not steered much effort toward the Ministry to Homosexuals Task Force.
"If Southern Baptists are going to invest time and money in reaching homosexuals with the Gospel, let's at least steer Southern Baptists to the appropriate resources," Wilkins said Thursday, noting that the task force has received little attention.
Among other findings by LifeWay Research, 66 percent of Americans, Protestants and born agains are personally acquainted with someone who has same-sex attraction. And among those who personally know a homosexual, 44 percent call homosexual behavior sinful and 49 percent say it is not a sin.
The survey was conducted on April 10-12, 2008, on a sample size of 1,201 American adults.