Can Social Conservatives Change?
Though limiting the size and power of the government and fiscal policy have recently been the issues galvanizing conservatives, social concerns are still the major factors motivating many conservatives. These invariably have a basis in religious beliefs, most prominently in evangelical Protestant churches and the Catholic Church, though also a hallmark of Orthodox Judaism. The stances taken on these social issues are derived from literal interpretations of the Bible which is said to be the word of God. Though many of these beliefs are in conflict with the mores and beliefs of younger generations, can religions alter their stances if these convictions originate with what is considered to be the word of God?
The positions that elicit the most strife between believers and the population at-large include abortion, same-sex marriage, evolution and the Big Bang theory, and pre-marital sexual activity. An unwillingness to accept global warming as fact is another area of conflict, but does not appear to be based on the Bible and is also promulgated by most economic conservatives.
In a recent article of The Atlantic online (http://goo.gl/YRZpG), it was reported that a 2009 study revealed that almost 80 percent of unmarred evangelicals engaged in premarital sex. I would assume a similar percentage among unmarried Catholics. A majority of Catholics have also been noted to use contraceptives, though it is against church teachings and is considered a mortal sin.
While it is difficult to imagine a change of standard positions on social issues by religions, shifts may occur slowly out of necessity, when the majority of church members ignore these teachings as shown by their behavior or beliefs. Perhaps a less literal interpretation of the words of the Bible might help to allow change. How do religious leaders respond when they realize that most of their followers (and some prominent leaders) are sinning regularly despite what they have been taught? (Of course, if those who repent can still be saved after the fact, maybe sinning is not such a bad
Apparently, some evangelical writers have begun to approach the issue of pre-marital sex without obsessing over “purity” and “damaged goods” regarding women who have been sexually active before marriage. The problem for social conservatives is if they change their message in one area,
it takes credibility away from them in other areas. If the Bible can bere-interpreted to allow pre-marital sex, maybe evolution can also be accepted as scientifically valid through a re-reading of Biblical text. And ultimately, perhaps even abortion and same-sex marriage?
Power and credibility are important touchstones in all religion, which is why religious leaders find it difficult to alter long-held positions, even if their followers do not accept church teachings as truth. For example, it took the Catholic Church more than three hundred and fifty years to exonerate Galileo for professing that the earth was not the center of the universe and that it rotated around the sun.
Another problem with acceptance of pre-marital sex is that it provides women with more power, an anathema to all conservative religions. If women do not have to be virgins before marriage, it gives them a choice of whether or not to have sex. They’re allowed to think and make decisions on their own. Perhaps then women may also have a choice regarding abortion, or whether to be submissive to their husbands who have been anointed by evangelicals as the heads of the family.
Inevitably, the views of social conservatives on all of these issues will change, as the shepherds follow their flocks to new ground. To be a religious leader, you must have followers. If the behavior and beliefs of religious adherents vary from the precepts that are supposed to guide them, the precepts must be re-written. Hopefully, it will not take as long as it took to have Galileo’s scientific constructs accepted by his church.