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Slightly Sympathetic Churchgoers

Written by Frank Klobucar, GORBI

02/12/2012 21:16 (502 Day 09:32 minutes ago)



The FINANCIAL -- It’s pretty clear to anyone that lives in Georgia that the country is not particularly accepting of homosexuality. A gay rights march in May ended with violence and arrests, as several members of the Georgian Orthodox Church stood in protest of the march.  The image of a line of priests confronting rainbow-clad protesters might have you thinking that religion is a core component to Georgian anti-gay sentiment.  This is in fact correct, but perhaps not in the way you would expect.


The most recent European Values Survey was conducted in 2008 and surveyed 47 European countries in an attempt to gauge public sentiment on a variety of topics. Georgian Opinion Research Business International conducted the Georgian portion of this decennial survey, polling 1500 Georgians.  The data reveal that there is a connection between anti-gay attitudes and religiosity, but that increased church attendance actually translates into increased compassion… up to a point.


Two weeks ago, during a discussion about Georgians’ social capital tendencies, I mentioned that homosexuals rank near the top of a list of undesirable neighbors, bested only by drug addicts.  In fact, 87% of Georgians would not want to live near a gay person. In a question that asked whether respondents justify homosexuality on a scale from never (1) to always (10) the Georgian mean justifiability of homosexuality was 1.1, sitting at the bottom of a list that includes prostitution, bribery, and suicide.  There’s no doubt that Georgians are not gay-friendly.


Just as you might expect, religious devotion is closely tied to this homophobia: when Georgians were asked the question “how important is religion in your life?” 66% said “very important” and 28% said “quite important.”  More religious answers to this question negatively correlate to the 1-10 justifiability scale, meaning self-assessed religious people are more unforgiving of homosexual lifestyles.  This correlation is consistent with other attitudes on homosexuality, including whether homosexuals should be allowed to adopt children and whether they are desirable neighbors – more religiosity means less support for homosexuality.


The interesting thing is that church attendance actually has the opposite effect, making those who attend church more frequently more likely to have sympathetic feelings.


We asked Georgians how often they attend religious ceremonies.  The scale included “more than once a week,” “weekly,” “once a month,” “holidays,” “once a year,” “less frequently,” and “never.” Church attendance is the one measure of religiosity in the survey that negatively correlates to homophobia: those who attend church once a year have the strongest anti-gay feelings, and those who attend weekly are actually the most liberally minded. While self-assessed religiosity has a positive relationship to homophobia (.14), actual church attendance has a mirrored effect (-.13).


Of those who attend only once a year, 95% mentioned they would not appreciate gay neighbors.  The same grouping of people gave homosexuality a perfect “1,” meaning it is never justified.  Moving up the scale to weekly attendees reveals a kinder cohort, though still solidly anti-gay: the mean justifiability is 1.3, and 89% said they would not like gay neighbors. 


The scale does become less neat at either end, however.  Those who never go to church were indeed less accepting of homosexuality than average, with a mean of 1.1, but were also less likely to mention homosexuals as unwanted neighbors. The biggest church-goers, the “multiple times a week” folks, were much less accepting than the weekly crowd with a mean of 1.1, but were also less likely to have a distaste for gay neighbors (75%). 


Despite these fluctuations at either tail of the curve: in general, saying that you’re religious makes you more likely to be homophobic, but actually going to church more frequently could make you more compassionate.



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