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. 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 incest and other forms of rape.

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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