Saturday, January 31, 2015

7 facts about hope


The psychology of hope owes much to the thinking and research of the late C. R.Snyder (2002). His research suggested two components.  Hope involves thinking about ways to achieve goals and objectives (pathways). And hope includes those motivational thoughts that energize people to use the identified pathways to reach their goals (agency thinking).

1. Hope links to compassion.
People high in hope are also more compassionate (Sutton et al., 2014). People full of hope love to share their hope with others. People in despair have lost hope and are in desperate need of hearing a message of hope. Hopelessness is in fact a diagnostic feature of clinical depression. Many find hope in the meaning provided through religious faith, including Christianity.

2. Hope links to forgiveness.
People with higher hope scores also score higher on trait forgiveness (Sutton et al., 2014). Hope promotes forgiveness in people. And people who learn forgiveness experience increased hope (Wade et al., 2014). Forgivingness is a way of living that continually lets go of past hurts. People who habitually forgive are free to focus on the present and the future unfettered by old wounds. Hope is a future focused motivational attitude. Hopeful people look forward rather than backward. Forgiveness provides a ground for hope. It is hard to hope for a better future when chained to the hurts of yesteryear.

3. Hope connects people to God.
I and my colleagues found that more hopeful people were significantly less anxious about their relationship with God (Sutton et al., 2014). Throughout the world, people hope in God or spiritual beings. People pray, offer sacrifices, and seek to connect with God. Committed Christians come expectantly to God and feel secure in their relationship. People losing hope feel insecure and struggle in their relationship with God.

4. Hope connects people to people.
When visiting a refugee camp in Kenya, I was pleased to see a U.S. charity from my city was also there giving away bags of rice. The apt name, Convoy of Hope, did indeed offer hope in a compassionate way to people who had lost all they had as they fled from machete wielding warriors (Sutton, 2012). Meeting people's needs offers hope.

Kenyan refugees about to receive rice from Convoy of Hope

5. Hope thrives on gratitude.
The hope of children is in their parents. And the hope of parents is in their children. We are interdependent but the balance of dependence shifts from infancy to advancing age. Smiles and squeals of delights reveal a toddler’s wordless gratitude for a trip to a playground. A smile and a thank you from an elderly person provide evidence that the visit she hoped for met her needs for companionship. Without gratitude, hope is lost. Taking children or visiting an elderly relative becomes a chore. The intergenerational connections become chains of obligations rather than blessed pathways of hope.

6. Hope links to effective spiritual service.
Hopeful people report high levels of effective service (Sutton et al., 2014). Leading, teaching, and caring for others requires energy and a belief that what one is doing helps others. People involved in service have hope that they are making a difference in the lives of others. Helping others seems like an investment in the future. All investments are borne of hope.

  Hope is like planting seeds to reap a bountiful harvest.

7. Hope leads to goal achievement.
Hope leads to achievement in many areas. Here's a quote from hope expert, C. R. Snyder: "Higher hope consistently is related to better outcomes in academics, athletics, physical health, psychological adjustment, and psychotherapy." 

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.
Proverbs 13:12


Copy of the Hope Scale


Hope and marriage 


Snyder, C.R. (2002). Hope theory: Rainbows in the mind. Psychological Inquiry, 13, 249-275. Link to abstract.

Sutton, G. W. (2012). Refugee center: Kenya. Recorder. 55, 36. (Link to the Recorder Link

Sutton, G. W., Jordan, K., & Worthington, E.L., Jr. (2014). Spirituality, hope, compassion, and forgiveness: Contributions of Pentecostal spirituality to godly love. Journal of Psychology and Christianity, 33, 212-226.  ResearchGate

Wade, N. G., Hoyt, W. T., Worthington, E. L., Jr., & Kidwell, J. E. M. (2014). Metaanalysis of psychotherapeutic interventions to promote forgiveness. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 82, 154-170. 

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Help! Fundamentalists on the rampage


“The problem is the extremists,” a Jewish friend said during a discussion about religiously motivated violence.
BBC news story on violence

Religious fundamentalists are frequently in the news nowadays—largely because of some threat or horrific act. Recently, a Muslim group made news in France with the murder of Charlie Hebdo magazine staff in Paris (BBC).

Hindu fundamentalists are on the rise in India and persecuting Christians according to a story in Christianity Today 23 January 2015. Some 300 clergy and church leaders are targeted. A report from 2014 claims some 7,000 Christians faced aggression and persecution from non-Christians.

Muslims have also been under attack by Hindu fundamentalists who seek to convert Muslims and Christians. Muslims are about 14% of the population according to Free Speech Radio News.

Popular Pope Francis has seen the need to speak out against all fundamentalists with a challenge to their respect for God: “Religious fundamentalism, even before it eliminates human beings by perpetrating horrendous killings, eliminates God himself, turning him into a mere ideological pretext.” WSJ 12 Jan 2015.

How do you Recognize a Fundamentalist?

Fundamentalists have been categorized in different ways by different scholars. A general consensus focuses on the key role of sacred texts and how they are read. Christians who read the Bible and take each word or phrase in a literal sense can be dangerous when they read about God ordained killing or ancient rules depicting a low view of women, children, and foreigners.

Sometimes it is hard to see the difference between fundamentalists and evangelicals. Marcus J Borg quotes a common phrase that a fundamentalist is “an evangelical who is angry about something.”

Evangelicals are often concerned to distance themselves from fundamentalists. Some have doctoral degrees from major universities and seminaries and teach at respectable schools. Evangelicals appear to be about beliefs and doctrines—check out their Statement of Faith, which pops up in a search for the NAE (National Association of Evangelicals). 

You’ll find tabs indicating other concerns of evangelicals, e.g., World Relief. They also define the concept evangelical and refer to four distinctives. Fundamentalists could surely agree to this list as well. Take a look at the Bible as the ultimate authority statement. And consider all the different Christian groups who believe that too but are divided into separate denominations because they disagree on how to interpret select verses from the Bible. So who really is the ultimate authority?

Psychologists, sociologists, and anthropologists have studied fundamentalism using different definitions. At this point I favor the approach used by a short scale with decent psychometric properties. I wrote about it before so here’s that link Fundamentalist Religion.
Progressive Options to Fundamentalism

Atheism or agnosticism can seem like an attractive option when fundamentalists appear to represent the true faith of any religious group. Who needs a religion focused on destruction and highly improbable ideas about life?

The found of Newsboys, a popular Christian band, declared that he is an atheist in a patheos blog post 21 January 2015.

But there are other options. I’ll have to leave it to those in other religions to explain more moderate and life-affirming paths in their traditions. In Christianity, there are moderates within the major traditions (e.g., Catholic, Mainline Protestant groups). People more concerned with compassion and restoration than killing. People who will offer a meal or shelter in the name of Christ rather than a bullet or hellfire. Progressive Christianity is a movement. It’s popularity continues to make news as an Atlantic story indicates.

Marcus J. Borg
One progressive leader died the other day (RNS). Marcus J. Borg offered Christians a progressive option. He was labeled a liberal theologian for several reasons notably the view he took of the Bible and Jesus. He wrote a number of books that would help many find alternative ways to interpret troubling biblical texts. Essentially, he encouraged people to take the Bible seriously but appreciate
the stories as containing theological truths represented by the experiences of ancient people when they expressed what they learned in their encounters with God. You can probably guess Borg is not popular amongst evangelicals or fundamentalists. But he has influenced many progressive Christians and those in mainline protestant churches. You can read much more on his website

Perhaps a more popular progressive leader is brian d. mclaren (self-styled lower case). He often focuses on what brings Christians together rather than on what divides them. There is an appreciation of what each Christian group can offer people. His book, A Generous Orthodoxy, was dubbed a “manifesto of the emerging church conversation.” I confess, I am a fan of his attitude.

Some thoughts

1. Educated young people will continue to leave fundamentalism—especially when hatred and violence are the links to such faith.

2. Evangelicals are often close to fundamentalists in their beliefs and statements that appear in the media. It’s hard to tell how they are different sometimes. Evangelical groups may not look like a good option for some. I think Evangelicals have a lot of work to do if they wish to retain educated leaders.

3. I wonder if some deconversions from Christianity occur because people have been so burned by fundamentalism that they want nothing to do with anything Christian?

4. If you are doing research on fundamentalism, check out the scale I mentioned above along with the references. Even if you disagree, you might find the idea of intratextuality helpful in understanding the fundamentalist mindset.

A quote from Borg

“The Christian life is not about pleasing God the finger-shaker and judge. It is not about believing now or being good now for the sake of heaven later. It is about entering a relationship in the present that begins to change everything now. Spirituality is about this process: the opening of the heart to the God who is already here.”

― Marcus J. Borg, The God We Never Knew: Beyond Dogmatic Religion To A More Authenthic Contemporary Faith


Monday, January 19, 2015

Helping people reach their dreams Dr. Martin Luther King Jr

How to Make Dreams Come True
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Helping people reach their dreams requires action. On this day we honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who took his beliefs public. His message and courageous action inspire many.

Immigrants come to the U.S. with dreams. Many realize those dreams. But some did not. And some do not. Speedy was a kind Black man with a broad smile and a willingness to lend a hand to anyone in need. As new immigrants, my father needed a job. He found one within a few weeks but we had no car and there was no public transportation. Speedy faithfully gave my dad a ride until he could save up the money for our first used car. You don't forget the kind things people do.

Most of us will never lead a major rally protesting social injustice. Most of us can reach out to people in need.

Sometimes it doesn't take a lot to help people on their way to reach their dreams.

Sometimes you have to cross the lines of your times.

For more inspiration, see the film, Selma


Black Lives Matter

Prejudice and Religion

Nelson Mandela Reconciliation

Malala The Shot Heard Round the World

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Should Christians get counseling from Christians?

Christian Therapist – Christian Client Matching:
 Is it important?

Answer #1: Yes. Matching is probably important.

Seven reasons why matching Christian clients to Christian therapists might be important. (Gleanings from Stegman and colleagues, 2013).

1. Psychotherapists know little about religion and spirituality.

2. A large number of Psychotherapists associated with Christian counseling professional groups graduated from non-Christian programs.

3. The spiritual beliefs of Christians can seem like psychopathology to non-Christian clinicians. This is especially true when the beliefs are different from the typical beliefs in a culture.

4. Christian clients consider religious and spiritual issues important to psychotherapy and many wish to talk about these matters.

5. Conservative Christian clients expect their beliefs to be a part of psychotherapy.

6. Not addressing Christian beliefs can lead to early termination.

7. There is a general consensus that accommodating a client’s religious and spiritual beliefs can be helpful. For example, the American Psychological Association endorses the importance of recognizing spirituality as important in psychotherapy.

Answer #2: Matching is complicated.

1. The evidence suggests Christian clients will likely feel more affinity for Christian clinicians. But, the evidence does not indicate what beliefs might make a positive or negative difference in treatment outcomes.

2. The emphasis is on beliefs; but what about religious or spiritual experiences? How will a clinician respond if a client wants to discuss experiences with supernatural beings, encounters with God, or the importance of visions or dreams? Christians experience God in many ways but some may be viewed as evidence of pathology.

3. The emphasis on religious beliefs does not address divisive values among Christians. Several moral issues divide Christians into tribes but these issues can be focal or important to clients. How well can Christian clinicians accommodate the moral values or challenges of their clients? The cultural divisions occur over such matters as abortion, birth control, cohabitation, marijuana usage, same-sex relationships and marriage, sex education, pacifism, and gender roles within society and the church.

How can clinicians learn more about client religiosity or spirituality?

My colleague, Chris Arnzen, and I conducted a survey of Christian Counselors in 2014. We have begun to look at background information related to the questions we asked and hope to analyze most of the data in the next few weeks before we make our first presentation.

Both of us are experienced clinicians and we are familiar with the religious beliefs of people who seek help. It’s no surprise to anyone that the beliefs and behavior patterns of religious persons do not match the official beliefs and expected behaviors associated with a particular Christian group. By group I mean Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Protestant, Pentecostal/charismatic and so forth.

Anyone can find the official teaching of various groups on their websites. But what do the clients really believe, practice, and value? Fortunately for us, the beliefs and practices of U.S. Christians have been studied by major research sources. So this week I’m gathering some facts that might be important to matching Christian psychotherapists and clients. After we analyze the survey data we should have some idea of what a sample of Christian clinicians believe and practice.

What is the religious identity of most Christians?

According to Pew, 78.4% of U S adults are Christian. And for perspective, there are about 2.2 billion Christians in the world. The three major grouping of Christians are Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox.

  Protestant 51.3%
            Evangelical 26.3
            Mainline 18.1
            Historically black churches 6.9
  Catholic 23.9
  Mormon 1.7
  Jehovah’s Witness 0.7
  Orthodox 0.6 (Greek and Russian each < .03)
  Other Christian 0.3

If official belief matching is important, then most counselors ought to know the most about Catholic and Evangelical traditions.

And focus on the Baptists—about 20% of the U S adult population are Baptists. They are about 1/3 of U S Protestants.

Important research note- Pew relies on the self-report of the respondents to classify people in terms of their religious affiliation.

An aside: Are Anglicans Protestants? This is a bit tricky. Some see themselves as catholic but not Roman Catholic. Others so see that the protested against the Church of Rome but they were not part of the general Protestant Reformation groups. Read more. When it comes to surveys, people may not always know their heritage. The devil may be in how you ask the questions.

What can we assume about the religious faith of couples?

It turns out we cannot assume anything. More than one-third (37%) of married persons are married to someone from a different religious group—that includes different denominations for Christians.

Does it matter where people live?
Actually it does. One of the questions we asked on the survey was the geographic location of the clinician. The Midwestern states closely match the national averages but other regions have faith clusters:

South- highest percentage of Evangelical Protestants
Northeast- highest percentage of Catholics
West- highest percentage of atheists, agnostics and unaffiliated persons.

What do Americans believe about common faith issues?

God exists (Harris 74%; 81%)
Jesus is the Son of God (Harris 68%)  
Devil exists (Harris 58%)
Angels exist (Harris 68%)
Soul lives on after death (Harris 64%)
Heaven exists (Harris 68%; Baylor 62%)
Hell exists (Harris 58%; Baylor 51 %)
Bible is God’s Word (about half for Old and New Testaments)
Miracles happen (Harris 72%)

            Links Harris 2013;   Baylor, 2011

What are common spiritual practices?

Church attendance (40% according to Gallup)
Prayer is common- Almost 60% of U S adults pray at least one a day (pewforum)

What are common social/ moral values?

Abortion: 29% would like to see the U S Supreme Court overturn Roe v Wade (Pewforum, 2013). How well can a conservative Christian counselor show empathy to a woman discussing a planned abortion?
Birth control: 89% find it morally acceptable and 8% think it wrong. Although official  Catholic teaching opposed birth control, U S Catholics find it acceptable at high rates (82%); 15% find the use morally wrong. Gallup poll.
Christian nation: 32% favor establishing Christianity as the official religion of the USA (opposed 52%). 34% support having Christianity as the official religion of their specific state (47% oppose) 
Marijuana use: 51% of U S support legalization but it is not clear what percentage are Christian. 
Same-sex marriage: 52% of US support same-sex marriage and 40% oppose. (Pewforum, September 9, 2014). I did not find data for a national Christian sample. How will conservative Christian clinicians deal with the issue when so many religious groups oppose same-sex relationships?
War is just: 72% of Americans believe war can be justified but only 58% are willing to fight  (Slavin, 2014). How would pacifists fare with psychotherapists valuing a strong military presence?
 Why do people oppose same-sex marriage? (Gallup,2012)
   Religion/Bible says it is wrong 47%
   Marriage should be between a man and a woman 20%
 An aside: Last week the U S Supreme Court decided to hear cases from four states involving legalization of same-sex marriage. The U S states are divided, which obviously causes difficulties for recognition of marital status and any marriage-related benefits. Key issue in same-sex debate might be choice vs. genetics. Here’s a quote with data from a recent Baylor survey.
 The extent to which Americans support same-sex marriage, civil unions and same-sex adoption is closely tied to whether they believe homosexuality is genetic or a choice. The survey shows that less than half (41 percent) believe it is a choice; more than half (57 percent) believe it is genetic. Individuals who believe it is a choice are much more likely to label it "always wrong" and less likely to have a favorable opinion on same-sex marriage, civil unions and same-sex adoption. Those who think sexual orientation is determined by genetics are much more likely to deem homosexuality as morally acceptable and to support same sex-marriage, civil unions and same-sex adoptions. (Baylor, 2011)

How much does religion matter to people? A lot – highest for Muslims though (2011)

Some thoughts

1. Any psychotherapist seeing a client in the United States will likely be interacting with a Christian who believes that God exists and Jesus is his Son. Many will attend church and pray. Many believe they will live on after death and a substantial portion believe in heaven or hell. And most believe in miracles.

2. A significant number of Americans do not share the beliefs, practices, and values of the majority so if religious and spiritual factors matter, clinicians will have to assess them. And this means clinicians need to know the questions to ask or the scales to use.

3. People tend to trust people who share similar beliefs and values. Trust is important to rapport. It might be difficult for a small percentage of people with atypical beliefs to find supportive and experienced clinicians.

4. Hypothesis: Conservative Christian counselors will be more effective with conservative Christian clients even when religious or spiritual issues are primarily linked to rapport than the focal treatment issue.

5. Hypothesis: Progressive and mainline Christians, atheists, and agnostics will find it difficult to establish rapport with conservative Christian clinicians.

6. Hypothesis: Same-sex couples will find it difficult if not impossible to obtain couples counseling from Christian clinicians who strongly believe same-sex relationships as sinful.

What are your thoughts?



Stegman, R. S., Kelly, S.L., & Harwood, T.M. (2013). Evidence-based relationship and therapist factors in Christian counseling and psychotherapy. In E. L. Worthington Jr., E. L. Johnson, J.N. Hook, & J.D. Aten (Eds.), Evidenced-based practices for Christian counseling and psychotherapy (pp. 25-39). Downers Grove, IL: CAPS/IVP Academic.

Saturday, January 10, 2015


Love, Prayer, and Charismatic Spirituality

Picture a smallish young woman, head bowed, sitting on a wooden chair near the back of a small wooden church. As the semiformal service blended into an after service of prayer, she began to quiver. She shook, the chair began to rock on two legs, and she began to speak in tongues. It was her first time. She never forgot that experience of warmth and God’s presence. God’s love had been experienced.

Soaking Prayer Photo

The story of the young woman is from the 1930s but charismatic spirituality is going strong and together with Pentecostalism, represents one of the fastest growing movements in Christianity.  Although scholars argue over fine points of defining religion and spirituality, a common finding is that religious people pray. But they pray in different ways.

This week I finished reading Catch the Fire: Soaking Prayer and Charismatic Renewal by Canadian Sociologist,Michael Wilkinson and Religious Studies scholar, Peter Althouse. They tell the story of a movement (Catch The Fire; CTF) that began in Toronto Canada in 1994 with roots in the Pentecostal  resurgence that broke out in the early 1900s. The revival that began January 20, 1994 came to known as the Toronto Blessing. Of particular interest is the current practice of soaking prayer, which bears some resemblance to being slain in the Spirit- an old Pentecostalism.

Here’s what the authors say--

Soaking prayer is claimed by charismatics to facilitate and expand the reception of divine love in order to give it away in acts of forgiveness, reconciliation, compassion, and benevolence. Soaking is a metaphor that supports charismatic spirituality and practices like resting in the Spirit, prayer for spiritual gifts, healing, prophecy, and impartation, which we describe and explain in this book (p. 4).

People travel to conferences to learn the practice of soaking prayer. Take a pillow and a blanket and plan to spend time in the presence of God. You’ll see people lying on the floor, looking peaceful with hands outstretched. They’re waiting for God.

An interview explains soaking prayer.

The book summarizes the results of their research. They conducted field studies by observing at conferences and interviewing participants. They look at research findings that might explain the phenomenon. And they include the results of a survey. I’ll take a look at some of the data next.

Survey Findings

I like data so I turned to the appendix to find out some of the numbers behind the movement. Here are some gleanings. (It starts on page 165.)

How many responded to the survey?
 I don’t know how many started but the analysis is based on 258 people.

How old were they?
Mostly middle aged and seniors—60% were in the age groups 46 to 64.

Where did they live? Mostly in the USA—71.9%

What about relationships?
 Most were married—73.9%

How ethnically diverse were they?
 Not very—mostly of European stock—86.5%

How educated were they?
 Pretty well: High School 40.9? College or University 40.9%.

Were they clergy or what?
 Most were not 73.9%

How often do they pray?
 59% said they pray throughout the day and about half had a set time for prayer (49%)

How do they pray?
They pray in many ways- I appreciated the creativity of the researchers to ask detailed questions. Most spoke to God in their own words (95.9%). Most prayer for the needs of others (90%) and themselves (77.1%). They used the Bible during prayer and listened to Christian music when praying.

Prayer on the go.
Most prayed whilst driving (89.6%). And a substantial number prayed whilst doing chores (72.1%) or doing errands/shopping (61.7%).

What did they experience?
The spiritual experiences were many and varied. They experienced the presence of God, reported visions, and experienced bodily and emotional healing. Speaking in tongues was common. They reported protection from evil and some said they were delivered from the demonic.

What were the outcomes?
Many reported increased capacity to handle adversity and increased compassion, hope and forgiveness.
They were busily engaged in helping others and reported feeling motivated to make the world a better place.
They reported giving time and money to help both religious and nonreligious charities.


The authors of the book are Christians. They approach the subject in a scholarly manner and attempt to account for the prayer in terms of sociological theories. They are neither critical nor skeptical in their approach.

If you watch the videos on YouTube you might notice the advertising of soaking prayer kits and conferences. This could be taken as crass-TV product placement or it could be viewed as telling people more about an experience that many find meaningful. You will also find hours of soaking prayer music and instruction. so, in fairness, the information is freely available.

I’ve seen far too many charlatans—clergy fleecing the flock and worse. But now I see people finding different spiritual experiences meaningful to them. I’m still skeptical in an inquiring sense but rarely cynical.

It’s good to keep in mind that what people say in surveys does not represent what they actually do. People are not necessarily lying. There’s a tendency to over-report good deeds and socially desirable attitudes. Unless you conduct controlled experiments and ask questions to get at socially desirable attitudes, you can’t be overly confident in survey results.

The data on altruism are confusing because many Christians give money to their churches. Anyone with a bit of business experience knows salaries are the largest part of most organizational budgets. Some may consider this church-giving as charitable giving. But others do not. For them, charitable giving is that which helps those less fortunate or projects (e.g., cancer research) likely to help millions. How do you define altruism and generosity?

I learned about the woman at the beginning of the post from my mother—it was her experience.



Wilkinson, M. & Althouse, P. (2014). Catch the fire: Soaking prayer and charismatic renewal.  DeKalb, Illinois: Northern Illinois University Press.

Related references

Mittelstadt, M. & G. W. Sutton (eds.) (2010) Forgiveness, reconciliation, and restoration: Multidisciplinary studies from a Pentecostal perspective. Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications.   

Sutton, G. W. (2010). The Psychology of Forgiveness, Reconciliation, and Restoration: Integrating Traditional and Pentecostal Theological Perspectives with Psychology. In M. Mittelstadt & G. W. Sutton (eds). Forgiveness, reconciliation, and restoration: Multidisciplinary studies from a Pentecostal perspective. Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications.

Sutton, G. W., Jordan, K., & Worthington, E.L., Jr. (2014). Spirituality, hope, compassion, and forgiveness: Contributions of Pentecostal spirituality to godly love. Journal of Psychology and Christianity, 33, 212-226.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Parents of Pregnant Girls and the Abortion Decision

Pregnant Children  

The U.S. has one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the developed world. The highest rates are in the states of New Mexico, Mississippi, Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma. About 6% of girls/ young women 15 to 19 become pregnant each year. (Guttmacher link).

Christianity is the dominant religion in the U.S. Christian morality dictates that people should have sex within marriage and most believe that abortion is not an option (some Christians offer consideration when a woman's life is at risk). Nevertheless, most teens have had sex by age 17 and nearly half by age 16. 

When a girl becomes pregnant, she is at risk for a range of health and life problems. Anxiety and depression are common. 

Should the girl have a choice in managing her pregnancy or should her parents be consulted?


Should parents be involved in the decision of a minor to have an abortion?

Does religion play a role in attitudes toward parental involvement in the abortion, health care, and pregnancy decisions of minors?

What other factors affect attitudes toward parental involvement in abortion and pregnancy decisions?

Rights and Consent

 In the U.S., minors have a limited right to an abortion but parent notification or consent can be mandated, according to the Supreme Court. Samuel Lindsey and colleagues (2013) reviewed the status of the consent laws and asked college students their opinions about parental involvement clauses. They also wondered about the influence of other factors like religion.

The U.S. States vary in terms of consent requirements. Some require one parent and others require two parents to give consent. Some require notification. There are procedures to bypass parental involvement such as by involving a grandparent or allowing a judge to decide. Also, special circumstances can obviate the need for parent consent such as incest or a medical emergency.

A Research Study

The researchers (Lindsey et al) found that other writers identified religion as a significant predictor of attitudes toward abortion. Appropriately, the researchers note differences in how scientists account for the religious factor. Some have looked at religious affiliation such as being a Catholic or Protestant. But others have looked at more detailed ways to gauge religiosity. For example, the authors refer to the value of devotionalism as a predictor—the extent of involvement in religious activities like prayer and attending services. Another take on religiosity is the degree of orthodoxy—traditional beliefs. Another factor is evangelism—a focus on converting others to the faith. In the study, the researchers used scales with acceptable reliability values.

The researchers also looked at a quest orientation (briefly, religious life as a search for truth and meaning) and a multidimensional religious scale of beliefs and practices.

In the U.S., there are two major political parties—Republicans and Democrats.  The authors asked about party affiliation because Republicans generally oppose pro-choice positions and favor parental involvement more than do Democrats. Finally, the researchers considered characteristics of the participants such as race and gender as well as their attribution style (a focus on personal vs. situational factors).

Selected Outcomes
There were 267 undergraduates from the Western U.S. who completed the questionnaires.

The highest support was for clauses that required one parent to give consent (compared to two parent consent or notification only clauses).

When the researchers looked at predictors, they found political party was strong—as expected, those who identified as Republicans were more supportive of parental involvement.  The groups were especially different for the more restrictive clauses—favored by Republicans.

Women were less likely to support two-parent consent than were men.

Religious factors varied. Religious affiliation was of low value as a predictor. And several factors did not predict support for parental involvement—devotionalism, evangelism, and quest.


The sample. Like most, these researchers admitted to limitations in the study.  But this is one case where evaluating the attitudes of college students can be appropriate in that minority status is not far in the past and to some extent, many U.S. college students have not achieved full independence from their parents.  It would be helpful to appreciate the perspective of minors and parents of adolescent young women.

Measuring religion. The inclusion of several measures to identify multiple dimensions of religion or spirituality is a plus. It is always possible to argue about what measure is best. Fortunately, the days of just looking at self-reported denominational affiliation or church attendance are disappearing from research.

Politics and Religion. The idea of considering politics and religion in one study makes sense. Both can be powerful influences on how people live their lives. And politics seems like a religion for many people. For those of you not in the U.S., conservative Christians are considered highly influential in the Republican Party.

Confound? Perhaps, in measuring political party affiliation, the researchers were also measuring Christian values about abortion and parental rights. This could explain the lower predictive power of the religious variables.

Sex and Influence. Most U.S. girls and boys, men and women, have sex outside of marriage. Religious teaching against sex and contraception may influence the rate of pregnancy as will political action. Neither religion nor political action inhibits unmarried persons from having sex. The decisions that individuals and groups make are matters of life and death. And the quality of life for girls and their babies can last a lifetime.

Boys as Fathers. And by the way, does anyone care about the father of the child? Does he have a say in what happens to his child? Under what conditions ought the father to be included or excluded?


Lindsey, S. C., Sigillo, A.E., Miller, M.K. (2013). Attitudes toward parental involvement clauses in minor abortion laws and individual differences in religion, political affiliation, and attribution style among college students. Individual Differences Research, 11, 59-69.