Oklahoma Young Clergy Survey on LGBT and Schism [Results]

Numbers And FinanceThis past month, the young clergy in the United Methodist Church in Oklahoma were sent a survey asking them their opinions on several LGBT and schism/unity questions. From the surveyer:

The Young Clergy Development Coordinator for the OK Young Adult Council sent out a survey to provide a picture of where the young clergy across the spectrum in Oklahoma were on the subject of homosexuality. 54 responded out of around 75 young clergy contacted (clergy under 40)  completed the survey.”

The results were published this week. Let’s take a look.

A Split Segment of Clergy

There are 10 questions but here’s the three most interesting ones. Results are rounded for the sake of discussion–the full results are in the link:

  • A close split of 48% agreed that “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching” compared to 44% who disagreed with that statement (8% neither agreed or disagreed)
  • It was a perfect split on the question “The Bible is clear and definitive on the subject of homosexuality.” The exact same percentage agreed or disagreed with that statement (46%) while only 8% didn’t agree/disagree.
  • They were evenly split on Hamilton/Slaughter’s “A Way Forward“: 32% agreed with it, 33% didn’t agree or disagree, and 35% disagreed with it.

On the topic of LGBT inclusion, the young clergy in Oklahoma are more-or-less evenly split. While some may be freaking out over the high percentage of progressives in the heartland of ‘Murica…let’s look a little more closely.

Young Clergy v. their Generation

Given those responses, I wonder: how does this age group of clergy compare to their age group in society? Since the Oklahoma survey included only Millenials and the younger end of Generation X, how does that compare to their age group at large?

  • „„Today, nearly 7-in-10 (69%) Millennials (ages 18 to 33) favor same-sex marriage, compared to 37% of Americans who are part of the Silent Generation (ages 68 and older). 3.GENERATIONAL 320x180 Survey | A Shifting Landscape: A Decade of Change in American Attitudes about Same Sex Marriage and LGBT Issues
  • „„It is difficult to overstate the effect age has on support for same-sex marriage, which is evident even among groups that oppose same-sex marriage. Half (50%) of Millennial Republicans favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry, a view shared by only 18% of Republicans who are members of the Silent Generation.

Based on the survey and comparative research, we can affirm the following statement: the young clergy in Oklahoma are statistically more conservative than their age group. Which is odd because, as Jacob Lupfer draws out in his writings on the PCUSA, mainline clergy are generally more progressive than their age group.

Why is it that young clergy in Oklahoma are not reflecting either of these cultural/ecclesial trends?

Editorial: Some (anecdotal) cultural influences

I was raised and went to college in Oklahoma, and was a clergy member of the Oklahoma Annual Conference for the first 8 years of my ordained ministry career. So here’s an anecdotal response to that question drawn from my former life in the minority class of progressives in Oklahoma.

  1. Personal conviction and biblical interpretation. I wouldn’t be fair to my conservative friends if this wasn’t top of the list. And rightly so: they are why I, as a progressive, affirm LGBT equality and inclusion. However, I believe there are also some other factors which influence #1.
  2. High interaction & accountability with non-inclusive baby boomers. Clergy interact on a heartfelt basis with members of all age groups, but baby boomers are most likely to be on their ordination boards, local church leadership, and regular conversation. This high interaction and accountability to persons of power from different generations can have an affect on young clergy beliefs.
  3. High concentration of Oklahoma clergy from Southern seminaries: Perkins, St. Paul, Asbury, United, etc. While Southern seminaries are not generally called liberal (Emory just hired Dr. Kevin Watson, an Oklahoman who is strongly conservative), they are overall more conservative than their Western and Northern sister institutions and have bigger-named conservative faculty. And there’s a lot of their graduates in Oklahoma.
  4. LGBT Inclusion is still a litmus test.  I don’t write much about my contentious ordination journey since the BOM can’t refute it and that strikes me as unfair, but I (and other progressives) had considerably more assigned papers and interviews than my conservative friends. It was admitted to me by a BOM member that if I hadn’t gone to Boston University, I wouldn’t have gone through the wringer like I did. This leads to unequal treatment: One conservative friend went up for his ordination interview and the lead interviewer was sick. They talked mostly about sports and passed him for ordination. Sigh. Also, in the past 2 years no less than four of my colleagues were asked about their beliefs on LGBT persons as part of their interview process for moving to a new church. Even though it’s 2014, it’s detrimental to both ordination and appointments to be open about your hopes for full inclusion of LGBT persons.
  5. Lack of LGBT-specific outreach. 39% of young clergy said there were no–or they didn’t know if there were–LGBT persons in their congregations. In the demographic survey, a third (32%) say they changed their minds on LGBT inclusion because they knew someone who is LGBT. Since clergy are viewed as anti-gay, they probably don’t see it as safe to be visible in the LGBT circles as they might in other minority situations. Hence, there’s likely less interaction than other professions in their age group.

I would hope any of my colleagues would share their own musings to refute or reinforce the above. Regardless, I’m thankful for the survey as it gives a good non-scientific-but-helpful snapshot.

Despite differences, We’re in this together

Ultimately, despite their strong diversity on doctrinal matters, the young clergy of Oklahoma reject the value structure of the Schismatic 80:

  • Only 16% agreed that “the best option is for the UMC to amicably divide” compared to 68% that disagreed.
  • 74% of respondents said that “homosexuality is not the most important issue” facing the UMC today.
    • Trigger alert: The LGBT conversation is about persons, not issues, so hopefully future surveys will change their language.

These young clergy could have 30 years to serve together ahead of them. During my time in Oklahoma, even as a loud progressive, my good friends were many of the conservative evangelicals. One of them used to call our friendship “The Spectrum” because we joked we represented the polar opposite ends of theology within Oklahoma United Methodism.

Young clergy seem to know that despite our differences in doctrine, what matters is our connection with each other, our congregations, and our passion for Christ through United Methodism in the region. I’m glad to see that two years after leaving Oklahoma, those values are still expressed. Those folks who want to split the church over LGBT inclusion will not find fertile soil for their seeds of schismatic discontent in the red dirt of young clergy in Oklahoma.

My charge now is for other annual conferences to do the same thing: poll your young clergy as a wake-up call to the senior clergy that the generation behind them (other than a small number of outliersmostly bloggers) isn’t going to fight the wars of their fathers, even if they are a bit more conservative than their peers. If you want to poll your annual conference’s young clergy, contact me and I’ll connect you with this poll’s creator so you can replicate the experience in your corner of Methodism.


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  1. Kirk VanGilder says

    Point 5 is what stands out for me. But I wouldn’t read it as just a lack of LGBT outreach among these young clergy.

    It seems far more indicative of a theological education that is overly focused on shaping ministers to the current needs of the institutional church rather than an outward facing church in ministry to all in its communities. This seems to me a result of pressures I saw in my own ordination process time I the mid 90s where BOOMs were concerned whether you were prepared to manage and administrate an existing congregation. There was an air of “too much academics” critique of theological education in their questions at times.

    When going back for my PhD, I saw a lot discussion about the ‘practicalities’ of being a minister still being built into MDiv curricula. But, unlike much of the practical theological discipline’s concern with a wider connection between theory and practice, it was largely framed in the disconnected manner of “helpful hints for pastors in their first church.”

    The upshot seems to be that theological education trends + odination processes = ministers formed more for institutional maintaince than missionsl outreach. I generally see this issue across the theological spectrum.

    So we end up with clergy who are trained to attune their thinking about ministry to the needs of those already within the church. For young clergy in a graying denomination, the results above are not shocking. Neither are they limited to LGBT outreach.

    It seems we train clergy to be pastors of congregations rather than larger communities (parishes, if you like that word). Which amplifies the insularity of our churches and even makes evangelism/outreach something done to “our friends” which often results in “people like us.” Our churches end up in little bubbles of isolation like Hoekendijk writes on in The Church Inside Out.

  2. Trey says

    “It was admitted to me by a BOM member that if I hadn’t gone to Boston University, I wouldn’t have gone through the wringer like I did.” Yay.

      • says

        I found folks on my DCoM and BoOM looked on me more skeptically for going to Asbury. They seemed to assume I went there because I was angry about something. I wasn’t, and am not now. :)

  3. Thomas Coates says

    Within Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana, I have noticed a correlation that the UMC conference in the area tends to be the social (conservative/political) opposite of the corresponding Episcopal Church Diocese. I am less familiar with Oklahoma, but I believe this is the case there, with the Oklahoma Conference of the UMC being extremely conservative (the really terrible comments from the UMC bishop there regarding equal rights for LGBTQ people (which caused UM Reconciling clergy and laity to better organize within the state), and the EC bishop writing letters of support for equal rights). If you polled all mainline young clergy in OK, not just UM, I bet the results would reflect Lupfer’s writings.

    Things are changing in the UMC even in OK, I would argue it’s still a shift in support of LGBTQ people versus if this survey was taken 10 years ago. I also believe young clergy are more aware of alternative interpretations of scripture regarding LGBTQ concerns, even if they reject more progressive interpretations, this likely makes a difference in how they treat LGBTQ persons (particularly youth, college age)– likely an improvement as well.

    Also, how would this survey be different if it applied to all young UM clergy in OK (was asked to the OK Indian Missionary Conference as well)?
    It would also be interesting to see how women and men answered the survey differently. I’ve heard a number of difficult stories from UM women clergy in OK.

  4. Johnny says

    “One conservative friend went up for his ordination interview and the lead interviewer was sick. They talked mostly about sports and passed him for ordination.”

    For the sake of my faith in humanity, in our denomination and in any sense of justice in the world, I really need you to tell me that this is an exaggeration.

  5. mike says

    Add in the ‘would be’ young progreesive Methodist clergy who moved out of state (you and others), those who chose to change denominations due to this and other reasons, and those who decided not to pursue ordination and there is your reason the young okumc clergy are more conservative than their generation.

  6. says

    Jeremy, I’m wondering if you’re using the wrong comparison. In the graph you posted from the Public Religion survey, the young clergy in OK are comparable with the figures for white evangelical Protestants when it comes to support of same-gender marriage.

    I’d guess that many more conservative clergy, across the age spectrum, identify more with evangelicals on social issues even if they are in the mainline. So what’s interesting is more that even young evangelical Protestants and conservative young adult clergy in OK still support gay marriage more than their older counterparts; i.e., times they are a’-changin’.

    Additionally, the Public Religion survey is (I think) measuring a public policy question, while the OK survey is measuring theological stances. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were quite a few conservative, younger clergy who say something like, “Well, legal rights are one thing; but what the church teaches is another.” So those numbers will show up in the data differently.

  7. Elaine Robinson says


    Saint Paul is not a “southern” seminary, but decidedly Midwest. Second, we are Wesleyan in the very best sense of the tradition, which means we teach people to form their own positions and conclusions on issues, rather than offering some form of orthodoxy to which they should adhere.

  8. says

    I am not particularly surprised by the findings. As a young (conservative-leaving) clergy myself, we tend to find our relationships a bit more important than our theology. This has been a primary value that many of us had instilled into us in our youth groups, campus ministries, seminary, etc. People above theology. That said, we also tend to be a bit idealistic, a bit naive at times (unless we feel slighted, then we can become quick to find malice in others), and we do not have the experience of the previous 40 years of conflict regarding the controversy surrounding sexuality (and I chose this language to avoid a) depersonalizing the relationship between sex and person and to avoid b) too tightly fusing it with personhood, as if sex fully defines a person). So with all the good that comes with our noble ideals, we are also thend to be a little bit naive and lack real deep understanding behind the conflicts.

    To also add, the very nature of the UM church automatically filters many people who would consider ordination in the denomination. By its very nature, people who demand high conformity to their doctrine will not find the denomination tenable; many strongly conservative evangelicals think the UM church ‘gay-affirming, liberals’ and many progressives feel the UM church is repressive and abusive of LGBTQ. You are not as likely to seek ordination in the denomination unless you have a spirit of openness and flexibility to some degree.

    Thirdly, some of this is generational effects and not the beliefs of these particularly clergy written in stone for all time. Some will change their minds over time, as the frustrations of reality dims our idealism. Even more so, some will change their minds if there comes to be a large movement to split; people who are more relationship oriented also are more apt to change their minds when there is a change in opinions.

    Finally, the poll has questions that do not effectively gauge attitudes fully in their questions. When you use superlative terms/phrases such as “best” or “most important,” you are going to get a very unbalanced answer that favors one side or the other. For instance, it asks if “the *best* option is for the UMC to amicably divide.” The very language conveys not simply you would consider it an option if necessary, but you think it is the best thing to do, something we should proceed with. This type of language is good to figure out what are the primary (and ideal) attitudes of young clergy, but it is not good to predict what actions they would be willing to take. To even approach being able to do this, you would need a different question, such as, “would you consider an amicable divide in the UMC as a possible option.” The actual poll question, by its very nature, is very restrictive who will agree to it, because of its superlative language, whereas the hypothetical question I gave is more broad and would be a better gauge of if people are open to the possibility. Considering that most UM clergy are by nature going to be less contentious (as noted above) and that younger UM clergy tend to be more idealistic, this poll is good at measuring ideal attitudes, but it doesn’t really tell us much about what behaviors they would engage in if confronted with an actual option to split.

    To add, if we don’t want to get too analytical of polls, there was a poll done by the UM communications about a month back that suggested 10 people wanted a split. While that poll had many biases in its questions (particuarly regarding the topic of splitting), if we take analysis of polling flaws away, this poll of young clergy would suggest that they are MORE likely to want to split than the average UM person. I add this as a note of caution about reading too much into polls.

  9. James says

    I took the survey and I’m a friend of the survey’s creator (and this blog’s author). Jeremy, I had a lot of the same reactions. I really expected the results to come out more progressive, but only by a bit.
    Two thoughts:

    1. I know of at least 2 people who did not complete the survey because, as supporters of marriage equality and full inclusion/ordination of LGBTQ persons, they were afraid of voicing their true thoughts. (And they didn’t know the survey creator well enough to give him the trust he deserves) One is ordained already, the other is in the process. These two would have moved the needle and there are likely others.

    2. The survey never asked me what I thought about marriage equality. It asked if I would perform a same-sex marriage under the current discipline. I said that I wouldn’t (I was asked last year and directed them to a mutual friend who wouldn’t lose her job). The survey never asked me whether I wanted the current discipline to change. I wonder if the results would have looked at least a little different with that question added.

    • says

      Your first point is actually a concern. Surveys on surveymonkey list the IP addresses (so the creator can skim for duplicate entries). While I am 100% certain the creator would not have done this, it wouldn’t have been too hard to pair IP addresses (and thus towns) with responses. Since your friends didn’t know him, I can understand their hesitation.

  10. Karl Kroger says

    Fascinating survey results. I’d be interested in helping facilitate a survey in the Dakotas. Interestingly enough, I’d surmise that in our relatively rural conference, our clergy 40 and under would come out 75/25 for inclusion, if not higher. I’d also say that Dakotas young clergy our more progressive than our peers across the states–in part because many of us young clergy have been exposed to and built relationships with persons who are gay in the arts and in big city seminaries (both relatively safe places to be out). That relational aspect is huge for us Dakotas people.


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