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Human Sexuality Tops List of Subjects U.S. Clergy Struggle to Address

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Matters related to human sexuality are most frequently cited by U.S. clergy when asked what they feel limited and what they feel pressured to address, according to Barna Group research published Jan. 29.

When asked, “On which issues do you feel limited or pressured to speak out?” 44 percent of respondents said they were limited on speaking about homosexuality / LGBT, and 22 percent felt limited in addressing same-sex marriage / gay rights.

These were the most frequently cited issues on which clergy sensed limitations, with the other top five topics being abortion / pro-life (18 percent expressed limitation), morality (14 percent) and politics / political parties / politicians (12 percent).

The number of clergy saying they felt limited was nearly equaled on most subjects by those noting that they felt pressured to address them.

Thirty-seven percent of respondents said they feel pressure to speak on homosexuality / LGBT, 32 percent on same-sex marriage / gay rights, 17 percent on abortion / pro-life, 11 percent on morality and 12 percent on politics / political parties / politicians.

Overall, those who feel limited “frequently” or “occasionally” in their ability to address moral and social issues (50 percent) equaled those who “rarely” or “never” feel this way (50 percent).

By comparison, there were fewer clergy who sense pressure “frequently” or “occasionally” to address these subjects (40 percent) than those who say they “rarely” or “never” feel pressure to do so (60 percent).

The pressures or limitations come predominantly from those inside the church, respondents noted, with the number expressing a feeling of pressure from congregants rising from 44 percent to 69 percent from 2014 to 2016.

“The pressure for leaders and especially faith leaders to satisfy everyone on all sides, and to avoid offense, is very real today, especially in the digital era. The public nature of social media only increases the stakes,” said Roxanne Stone, editor in chief at the Barna Group. “As the research reveals, the issues pastors feel most pressured to speak out on are the same ones they feel limited to talk about. In other words, the squeeze comes from all sides: those demanding that the church take a stand and those outraged when it does (or outraged when that stance is other than what they’d hoped).”

The full report is available here.