Theses and Dissertations

Issuing Body

Mississippi State University


Kelly, Kimberly C.

Committee Member

Peterson, Lindsey P.

Committee Member

Rader, Nicole E.

Committee Member

Allison, Rachel

Date of Degree


Document Type

Dissertation - Open Access



Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D)


College of Arts and Sciences


Department of Sociology


Using surveys and interviews with Mississippi Christians, this study provides a more complete understanding of Christians’ beliefs and attitudes toward homosexuality and gay and lesbian civil rights. I analyze how Mississippi Christians make sense of their relationships with gay and lesbian friends and family members and how this differs based on their religious identity. I then consider how these beliefs and attitudes are influenced by social contact with gays and lesbians. I find Mississippi Christians’ views toward homosexuality and gay and lesbian civil rights vary widely from rejection to acceptance. The most conservative views are held by evangelical Protestants who set themselves apart from society through their beliefs about homosexuality. They feel that homosexuality is always sinful and describe almost complete opposition to gay and lesbian civil rights. On the contrary, mainline Protestants continue to move towards full assimilation with secular society. Many believe the Bible does not say anything about homosexuality and that the church should be accepting of gays and lesbians. Mainline Protestants also largely support gay and lesbian civil rights. Catholics fall in the middle of the continuum. They describe a greater degree of ambivalence about the sinfulness of homosexuality and describe conditional acceptance of gay and lesbian civil rights. Social contact with gays and lesbians did not influence evangelical Protestants beliefs and attitudes toward homosexuality or gay and lesbian civil rights. Similarly, conservative Catholics continued to hold on to their more conservative religious beliefs about homosexuality despite social contact. Conservative Christians’ subcultural identity which stands in opposition to homosexuality is stronger than the effects of social contact for evangelical Protestants and conservative Catholics. On the other hand, social contact is often a strong enough influence to change beliefs and attitudes toward homosexuality and gay and lesbian civil rights for mainline Protestants and more liberal Catholics. This study demonstrates that conservative religion acts as a negative feature that deters the positive benefits of social contact to overcome prejudice.