U.S. religious congregations' openness to gays and lesbians as members and leaders has increased substantially in recent years, according to a new Duke University study.
The latest set of data in Duke's ongoing National Congregations Study showed a notable increase from 2006 to 2012, the university announced Thursday -- essentially confirming a trend observed in news reports.
In 2012, 48 percent of the congregational leaders surveyed said a gay or lesbian couple in a committed relationship would be welcomed as full-fledged members, up from 37.4 percent in 2006. The proportion of congregations that open all volunteer positions to out gays and lesbians increased from 17.7 percent to 26.4 percent.
"The increasing acceptance of gays and lesbians is a well-known trend in America," said study director Mark Chaves, a professor of sociology at Duke, in a press release. "Churches are no exception."
The greatest progress in the period came in black Protestant churches, white liberal churches, and non-Christian congregations, offsetting a decrease in acceptance in Catholic congregations and a mixed record in conservative white Protestant churches, which indicated increased acceptance of gays and lesbians as members but not as volunteer leaders.
The study's findings come from interviews with representatives of 1,331 American churches, mosques, temples, synagogues and other houses of worship. In addition to acceptance of gays and lesbians, it covers trends in racial diversity, style of worship, denominational affiiliation, and congregation size. Researchers previously announced results from 2006 and 1998.
An article featuring the latest results is available online now and will be printed in the December issue of the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion.