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Title:The evolution of a Christian ally: Factors that influence beliefs and attitudes toward gays and lesbians
Author(s):Larson, Debra
Advisor(s):Mayo, Cris S.
Department / Program:Educ Policy, Orgzn & Leadrshp
Discipline:Educational Policy Studies
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
attitudinal plasticity
Abstract:Plasticity has been defined as a capacity that involves interaction between the brain and the environment. It is not fixed, but rather can be learned or improved with practice and experience (Cavanaugh & Blanchard-Fields, 2011, p. 63). Much of the research in the area of plasticity centers on neurological, cognitive, and behavioral aspects of adult development. One study describes cultural plasticity as how biology and culture shape the mind and behavior (Li, 2003). This study uses basic qualitative research methodology to examine attitudinal plasticity, specifically how Christian attitudes and beliefs toward homosexuality change or evolve. Interviews were conducted face to face, by phone, Skype, or email with 26 people who attended a particular church during all or a portion of 1981 to 1996. In 1996, the pastor left to take another position. Shortly after, he came out as gay. Participants in the study were asked about any gay friends, relatives, or colleagues they may have had, both before and after 1996; their understanding of what the Bible says about homosexuality; and their political affiliation. They were also asked to select from a list of five descriptions of ways to interpret scripture the one that best describes their position. The interviews revealed that those who hold a literal interpretation of the Bible (that it is without error even in matters of science and history) categorize homosexuality as sinful. They also describe themselves as predominantly Republican/conservative and have had fewer close relationships with gays and lesbians. Those who are accepting of homosexuality predominantly hold a less literal view of scripture, describe their political views as Democratic/liberal, and have friends or relatives who are gay. These findings are in agreement with other research on conservative Christians and their beliefs on homosexuality (Altemeyer & Hunsberger, 1992; Herek & Glunt, 1993; Hooghe & Meeusen, 2012; McFarland, 1989; Trevino, 2012; Whitehead, 2010). One unexpected finding was that many of the more conservative Christian participants who maintain a literal interpretation of the Bible also expressed compassion toward homosexuals; some either admitted to being conflicted about their beliefs or distinguished between the homosexual person and homosexual behaviors. When an exchange of scripture passages regarding homosexuality becomes merely argumentative and unproductive, such points of uncertainty may provide an inroad toward positive dialogue and discussion and keep the conversation moving forward. This may be particularly true for those who say that they cannot reconcile what they believe with what they know from experience.
Issue Date:2014-05-30
Rights Information:Copyright 2014 Debra Larson
Date Available in IDEALS:2014-05-30
Date Deposited:2014-05

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