Thursday, May 17, 2018

Divided American Values: 2017 Survey Data

After publishing the moral psychology book, A House Divided: Sexuality, Morality, and Christian Cultures, I naturally pay attention to relevant research and trend analyses. A PPRI study offers a perspective on sharp differences between conservative and liberal political groups.

Sexual Harassment of Women

Respondents generally (70%) see reports of sexual harassment and assault as part of a pattern of treatment of women. The reports are isolated incidents according to a minority, 24%.

The response pattern is different for men and women:

     Broader Pattern: Men 63%, Women 78%
     Isolated Incidents: Men 30%, Women 18%

American Morality

Another highly relevant question focused on America as a good moral example for the world. Interestingly, many Americans do not find the country sets a good example: 57% disagreed with the statement, "America today sets a good moral example for the world” (43% agreed).

Not surprisingly, groups responded differently but the numbers are still low for agreement about America setting a good moral example: Republicans 56%, Independents and Democrats at 35%.

Black Americans have different views- the disagreement with America as a good moral example was at 70%.

The survey contains other interesting results concerning government policies. The two I selected were particularly relevant to A House Divided.


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Thursday, May 3, 2018


Republicans in the American State of Iowa passed a bill permitting abortions before a heartbeat is detected. The heartbeat date is about fetal age six weeks.

The bill passed by the legislature and was signed by the Republican governor (Des Moines Register, 4 April 2018)

Originally, the Iowa bill did not allow exceptions for rape or incest, but it was amended to include those exceptions.

The Iowa law comes close to a ban because a heartbeat can be detected at close to six weeks but women may not know they are pregnant by six weeks.

Quote from Governor Reynolds/ Des Moines Register:

"I believe that all innocent life is precious and sacred,” Reynolds said from her formal office before signing a bill that will outlaw nearly all abortions in the state. “And as governor, I have pledged to do everything in my power to protect it. And that’s what I’m doing today.”

Republicans generally support abortion at lower ages than do Democrats. Earlier in 2018, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill supporting abortion at age 20 weeks, which was supported by the President but the bill failed to pass the Senate (See February 2, 2018 post).

It is not clear what would happen at the Supreme Court because in 2016 the Court did not hear an appeal of a similar law passed in North Dakota or a 12-week law in Arkansas, which were blocked by lower courts.

You can read details of the bill at the Iowa Legislature site.

Abortion in the U.S.

At this point in 2018, based on evidence from bills passed, both Republicans and Democrats support abortion and neither party supports a ban on abortion.

Republicans push for the highest level of restrictions on abortion but stop short of a ban, although coming close to a ban.

Republican led abortion restrictions allow abortions in cases of incest or rape.

As legal abortion cut off dates get close to conception, laws come close to an abortion ban without explicitly stating a ban exists.

The viability of a fetus is a consideration for some. Medical advances

Psychological Science and Pregnancy Awareness

Some women do not know they are pregnant until late in their pregnancy even up to the point of labor. There are several reasons for the lack of awareness including irregular sex and periods as well as mental health conditions. A related term is Denied Pregnancy or Denial of Pregnancy (see more at WebMD). A summary (JRSM, 2011) of research reported denial of pregnancy status at a rate of 1 in 475 at 20 weeks in Germany. The article reported similar rates in other countries (e.g., 1 in 516 for U.S.). Most women were in their early to mid 20s and did not have personality traits general to the condition. Though difficult to predict, the conditions poses serious adjustment risks in coping with pregnancy, birth, and care of the newborn. Abortion is obviously not an option in locations where the woman must make a decision before she is aware of her pregnancy.

Christians, ProLife, and Abortion

U.S. Christians remain divided over abortion. Most official organizational statements are prolife but some support a woman's right to abortion for reasons of her health and in cases of rape and incest.

36% of women were attending a church at least once a month when they had their first abortion (Lifeway, 2015).

Women are most likely to discuss their decision to end their pregnancy with a medical professional (48%) or the father of the baby (61%) rather than someone at their church (7%). (Lifeway p. 9).

Read more about Christianity and moral thinking about abortion in A House Divided. See pages 78-79, 88-102, and 123-146 for detailed discussion of the issues.


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Barbara Bush (views on abortion and women's rights)

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Same-Sex Marriage Support Trend 2018 Report

A new report from PPRI (01 May 2018) reveals increasing support for same sex marriage in the United States. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples had a right to marry in 2015.

The Christian community remains A House Divided on support for same-sex marriage but the percentage of supporters is changing.

Here's the data for Christians from the PPRI report:

Roughly two-thirds of white mainline Protestants (67%), white Catholics (66%), Orthodox Christians (66%), and Hispanic Catholics (65%) also favor same-sex marriage. 

A bar graph shows how the rates of opposition changed between 2013 and 2017. In all groups of Christians, there is a decline in opposition. (PRRI Figure 3).

Age appears to be a major factor predicting support for same-sex marriage. The differences are outstanding. Overall, young Americans (age 18-29) support LG marriage at a rate of 77% but, the support is only 47% for those over age 65.

Read more about the Christian divide over same-sex marriage in Chapter 9 of A House Divided.

Perhaps not surprisingly, young white evangelicals (25%) are also significantly different from their elders (53%) in supporting legal same-sex marriage.

Other findings include increasing support for nondiscriminaiton protections.

See the PRRI report for more analyses. They also provide detail about their survey methodology.

Read more about the Christian divide over same-sex marriage in Chapter 9 of A House Divided.

Read more about conducting surveys


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Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Christian Women, Divorce, and A House Divided

Photo credit below

 Christians do not doubt that marriage ought to last a lifetime. It is no secret that divorce was forbidden unless adultery could be established. And even in cases of adultery, women were encouraged to forgive their husbands. You did not hear much about husbands forgiving their wives. Many Christian groups have changed their views on divorce, while still believing in the sanctity of marriage.

Jonathan Merritt (Washington Post, 2018, April 30) poses a challenge to Southern Baptists—the largest group of American Evangelical Christians: “In a #Metoo moment, will Southern Baptists hold powerful men accountable?” Merritt wonders about the views of Paige Patterson, president of the influential Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Essentially, Southern Baptist leaders believe in a traditional marriage in which women are to be submissive to men in the church and marriage. Merritt wrote:

Last week, an audio recording surfaced on which Paige Patterson, a high-profile Southern Baptist leader, says abused wives should avoid divorce, pray for their violent husbands, and “be submissive in every way that you can.”

How much violence should a woman take before she sues for divorce? If you take the Bible at face value, which Southern Baptists and many evangelicals do, then there is no biblical justification for divorce aside from adultery. Another quote helps understand Patterson’s view on abuse:
“It depends on the level of abuse to some degree,” Patterson is heard saying on the 2000 tape. “I have never in my ministry counseled anybody to seek a divorce, and I do think that is always wrong counsel.” He adds, “On an occasion or two when the level of abuse was serious enough,” he has suggested a temporary separation.

Domestic violence image from Bing/ free to share and use
Patterson is on solid ground with the Bible. But he’s on sinking sand with the host culture—that is American culture in general, and many Christian subcultures. At best, evangelical clinicians can suggest a separation and counseling without violating the biblical text.


Progressive Christians interpret biblical texts drawing on principles rather than relying on explicit statements. Evangelicals in transition to progressive views often struggle with moral matters such as sex-linked gender roles in the church and marriage. Progressive views draw on Jesus’ reference to principles that avoid strict adherence to a rule such as breaking the rule of the Sabbath to do good works, like healing. I discuss these issues and more in A House Divided: Sexuality, Morality, and Christian Cultures (2016).

When it comes to women in society and the church, progressive views consider women and men as equals. One example of a text supporting equality is the “no male or female in the kingdom of God reference” (Galatians 3:28). There’s much more to the argument favoring women and men as equals rather than the traditional teaching that women are helpers or the “equal but different” doctrine.

Supporting women as clergy rests on several arguments pointing to a few examples of women as leaders in the early days of the Christian era and evidence that women have many gifts such as teaching and administration. Progressives attribute these gifts to God (See chapter 10 for more).
A progressive view on divorce allows additional exceptions to the adultery clause. Sexual and other forms of physical violence are justified in several ways but the primary basis is the lack of love and respect mandated by the second greatest commandment—loving your neighbor as yourself (See chapter 8 for more on marriage and divorce).


Merritt refers to accusations of a “morally inappropriate relationship” toward a woman by a Southern Baptist leader. The phrase is vague. No one is accused of sexual violence. But the accusations raised in the article paint the leadership with a brush of disrespect for women, but that might not be fair.

There is no reason to believe that either male evangelical or progressive Christians would treat women as sexual objects. There is no reason to think that women would be the victims of harassment, abuse, or violence simply because an evangelical believes women ought to be submissive to her husband or be excluded from church leadership. After all, evangelicals do believe a husband ought to love his wife as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:25).

The lack of escape from an abusive or violent relationship via divorce is a difference from those taking a fundamentalist view of the text in contrast to a progressive view. This difference can mean the difference between life and death or between a life or misery and a life of happiness. Is it reasonable to say that marriage is made for people?

We may reasonably ask if the lack of women in church leadership leads to a higher risk of sexual harassment, abuse, and violence than would be true if women also held leadership positions. Research documents moral foundations of loyalty and respect for authority are highly important to conservatives. These moral foundations help bind people together and support a strong community. Unfortunately, these moral virtues can cause people to cover up abuse and violence when under attack from those outside their faith group. We’ve seen too many cover-ups. Conservative Christians (fundamentalists, evangelicals) may need to ask if their loyalty and respect for authority have been misplaced when leaders fail to love others as Christ does.


A person (woman or man) seeking counseling following experiences of harassment, abuse, or violence has much to consider. In addition to the troubling experience, which may have resulted in physical harm, there are feelings and thoughts that can produce a wide range of distress symptoms depending on the nature of the experience, the offender, and one’s own history of experiences and personality. In severe cases, diagnoses such as Depression, Anxiety Disorders, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can be present and require intensive treatment. Although many Christian clinicians are qualified to provide treatment for the aforementioned mental health conditions, they may approach the spiritual issues differently.

Evangelical Christian clergy and counselors really have no biblical grounds to support a divorce except in the case of adultery. This has been the traditional teaching of the Church for some 2,000 years. A woman may get a reprieve from violence if their counselor encourages separating for a while. But there is no guarantee the woman would be safe even after a year’s worth of separation. How far will the clinician go in moving beyond tradition when a client experiences severe emotional distress in a relationship? Will the clinician set aside traditional teachings when a victim is in danger of ongoing harassment, abuse, or violence?

And for clients, we may ask how comfortable they feel if a pastor or Christian counselor holds quite flexible views that are not a part of the victim's faith tradition? After all, progressive views hold that women and men are equal in society and the church. Women and men may be clergy and hold other leadership positions based on their abilities and not their biological sex. Progressive views endorse equality for women and men in marriage and parenting, which call for mutual love and respect. A challenge for progressive clinicians is to respect the struggle in clients who may not easily set aside the teachings that have governed their lives for decades.

Photo credit
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson poses near a portrait of B.H. Carroll, the seminary’s first president, at the B.H. Carroll Memorial Complex in Fort Worth in 2010. (AP Photo/Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Paul Moseley)


Sutton, G. W. (2016). A house divided: Sexuality, morality, and Christian cultures. Eugene, OR: Pickwick. ISBN: 9781498224888

Sutton, G. W., Arnzen, C., & Kelly, H. (2016). Christian counseling and psychotherapy: Components of clinician spirituality that predict type of Christian intervention. Journal of Psychology and Christianity, 35, 204-214. Academia Link    ResearchGate Link

Relevant Chapters in A House Divided

Chapter 8: Marriage, Divorce, and Sexual Relationships 149

Chapter 10: Sex and Gender Roles 195

Chapter 11: Sexual Violence and Christianity 209


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Sunday, April 22, 2018

Barbara Bush and Christian Culture

Barbara Bush/ Source Bing Free to Share and Use Images

People celebrating the life of Former U.S. First Lady Barbara Bush referred to her as classy and down to earth—a difficult combination for many to portray. Many celebrants also noted her faith. Barbara Bush was a Christian. And her funeral service was held in her local church—St. Martin’s Episcopal Church of Houston, Texas. The NY Times referred to the church as her “spiritual home.”

The relevance of her story to Christian Culture is her contribution to helping people connect to others while respecting diversity. Outsiders may not realize the incredible diversity that exists amongst those who claim an identity as Christian.

Mrs. Bush' story is also relevant because of the widespread respect she has received from people linked to conservative and liberal religious and political groups.

Not surprisingly, some Christians do not consider other groups as Christian. In the book, A House Divided: Sexuality, Morality, and Christian Cultures, I make a point of describing some of the commonalities of Christians reflected in the early creeds as well as noting some beliefs that set the faithful apart as members of various subgroups.

The Episcopal Church traces its origins to the second century when Christianity arrived in England. The Church of England was established in British North America during colonization and became the Episcopal Church following independence. Today Episcopalians are part of the worldwide Anglican Communion. Although often associated with Protestants—likely because they are not Catholic—Anglicans are not necessarily tied to the doctrinal protest movement of leaders like Martin Luther.

A glance at the official statements of beliefs confirms what one would expect from a group identified as Christian. But amongst protestants, Episcopalians are considered part of the mainline Christian groups and not a part of the Evangelical groups. Evangelicals, especially those holding fundamentalist perspectives, consider Episcopalians as “liberals” largely based on their social values. (Relevance: A House Divided Chapter 1).


Episcopalians differ from other Christian Cultures in ways relevant to several chapters in A House Divided.


Women may have a prominent role as clergy and as bishops. This sets them apart from Catholics where only men are priests and from various Evangelical groups, which hold to a traditional interpretation of the biblical texts that excludes women from church leadership. One unusual finding is the ordination of women in some Pentecostal groups such as the Assemblies of God—a group, which is a part of the National Association of Evangelicals. 

Barbara Bush was known as a wife, mother, and grandmother yet she supported women’s rights—as one article reports, her views on women were “complicated” (USA Today, 2018). (Relevance: A House Divided Chapter 10).


Episcopalians welcome those who identify as LGBT as children of God. They have an explicitly inclusive position. Clergy may identify as LGBT. And marriage is not limited to a man and a woman. For Barbara Bush’s compassionate view, see The Atlantic article (2018). (Relevance: A House Divided Chapter 9).


Following the #metoo movement, the House of Bishops met to begin a process of working to change the culture of the church with respect to the important concerns of those who have been harmed by sexual harassment and sexual violence. (Relevance: A House Divided Chapter 11).


The Episcopal Church views human life as sacred from conception to death. The church supports a woman’s right to an abortion with specific limitations (Church archives). 

Barbara Bush wrote “I hate abortion” but also believed abortion should not be a political platform issue (Slate, 2018). (Relevance: A House Divided Chapter 7).

Discussions of A House Divided have been well-received in conservative and liberal settings--in churches, universities, and a seminary.  The book is free to professors as an exam copy from PICKWICK. The publisher - PICKWICK- also offers group discounts.

A low cost Discussion Guide can be found on AMAZON.

Buy as an eBook on AMAZON and at other bookstores.


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Friday, February 2, 2018

Abortion, Politics, and Lives

Abortion laws continue to make news in the U.S. and elsewhere. A few days ago, the U.S. Senate did not pass legislation that would have limited abortions to 20 weeks of pregnancy. The bill had passed the U.S. House of Representatives. President Trump urged the Senate to pass the legislation.

Here's what Trump said: 

“I urge the Senate to reconsider its decision and pass legislation that will celebrate, cherish, and protect life,” Trump said in a statement. 

Medical science continues to make progress in the treatment of babies born much earlier than the usual 40 weeks, or 280 days. 

In the United States, the Republican Party has consistently promoted its anti-abortion stance. For conservative Christians, a prolife agenda means all unborn children's lives should be protected. Hence, prolife means no abortion. So it is no surprise that many Christians support Republican politicians.

The failure to pass the legislation was blamed on Democrats, who are usually associated with supporting a woman’s right to choose an abortion.

It is not surprising to find Democrats opposed to abortion bans for lower weeks than what is currently allowed.

What is surprising is that despite decades of prolife campaign rhetoric, the Republicans advocate a position inconsistent with that of the prolife movement. That is, the debate was not about prolife, but rather about when an abortion would be legal. By supporting a ban at 20-weeks, Republicans provide evidence of support for abortion.

The only reasonable assumption, given the bill rejected by the Senate, and supported by the President, is that American Republicans and Democrats support abortion—they just disagree on when it is acceptable.

The level of support for the 20-week number was 237 House, 51 Senate, and the President. Opposed to the ban: 189 House, 46 Senate. (Politico 1/29/2018).

I write about the often confusing positions of liberals and conservatives in Christian cultures. Abortion is one of those topics in A House Divided.

Discussions of A House Divided have been well-received in conservative and liberal settings--in churches, universities, and a seminary.  The book is free to professors as an exam copy from PICKWICK. The publisher - PICKWICK- also offers group discounts.

A low cost Discussion Guide can be found on AMAZON.

Buy an eBook on AMAZON and at other bookstores.

Several news sources carried the story. Here's one account Huffpost and here's a story from Fox News.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Christian Moral Foundations- Liberal Conservative Divide

Preliminary data anayses of American Christians identified as Republican or Democrat were consistent with predictions based on Moral Foundations Theory.

According to Haidt and his colleagues, liberals (usually Democrats in the USA) emphasize care and fairness in their moral arguments.

In contrast, conservatives (e.g., Republicans) tend to draw from up to five moral foundations but stand out as higher than liberals on Authority, Loyalty, and Purity.

The findings are part of a study I worked on with Heather Kelly, and Marin Marsi of Evangel University. The bars in the chart represent rounded marginal means from a MANCOVA where sex was the covariate.

You can look for the pattern when you read arguments over various social issues. Take the example of illegal immigration. Liberals will emphasize care for the families being separated and the treatment of children. Conservative arguments will emphasize respect for the authority of the law and loyalty.

Consider the case of an effective leader who has been hit with credible allegations of sexual misconduct. What would you predict? Liberals will focus on care for the vicitm and fair treatment. Thus liberals may often condemn their own candidate if the person is a man who harmed a woman.

Conservatives will likely argue about authority concerns e.g., innocent until proven guilty. They can be expected to be loyal to their "family member" longer than will liberals.  But purity concerns will be strong among most Christian members producing real tension. One way to reduce purity concerns is to argue the problem is in the past-- "sins are washed away."

Note: The data analysis has not yet been vetted by peer review. We present our findings at an international meeting in April.

If you are interested in moral psychology, see Haidt's book, The Righteous Mind.

If you are interested in the application to Christian cultures, see A House Divided: Sexuality, Morality, and Christian Cultures.