LGBT Religious Activism: Predicting State Variations in the Number of Metropolitan Community Churches, 1974–20001

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Abstract

Armstrong and Bernstein (2008) critique the emphasis movement scholars place upon activism within the formal political sphere, proposing, instead, a multi-institutional approach which argues that protest can occur within any social institution and that the desired outcomes of activism can include cultural outcomes. The goal of this article is to expand the range of social movement targets studied through an examination of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) activism within the institution of religion. In the United States, religion, particularly Christianity, is used as the primary justification for defining same-sex sexuality as undesirable and denying LGBT individuals full citizenship. The LGBT community challenges these traditional Christian definitions of same-sex sexuality in numerous ways, including through the creation of LGBT-affirming congregations. I examine the development and spread of congregations affiliated with the United Federation of Metropolitan Community Churches (UFMCC), an LGBT-affirmative denomination, across all 50 states from 1974 to 2000. Drawing upon organizational ecology, resource mobilization, political opportunity, and theories of religious switching, I find that the distribution of UFMCC congregations challenges the usefulness of traditional explanations for activism.

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