Chet Burger
Religion, Politics & Sex (Part Five)

Religion, Politics & Sex (Part Four)

Flag and bible Sex and family issues may be losing their stickiness as the glue that holds the Religious Right together.

Public attitudes toward homosexuality are clearly shifting. Studies suggest that this is another area of life where familiarity breeds respect. 

For example, people who know someone who is gay or lesbian are almost evenly divided on the issue of gay marriage, with 49 percent in favor and 47 percent opposed.  Among those who do not know anyone who is gay, nearly three-quarters oppose it.

There is also a growing generational shift – in 1988, young people were no more likely to favor same-sex marriage than their parents, 15 to 13 percent.  By 2008, the generation gap was much wider – about half of young Americans favored it, compared to about a third of their parents.

Most interestingly, in 2008, the degree of young people’s religiosity had no bearing on their attitude toward homosexuality. So the natural process of generational replacement will likely lead to general acceptance, as it did on issues such a women with children working outside the home. 

Meanwhile if the jury is still out on gay marriage, Americans are much clearer about the place of gay men and lesbian women in society.  While nearly half would have removed books about homosexuality from public libraries in 1973, less than a quarter would today. 

And while about half would have forbidden homosexuals from teaching back in the early ‘70s, less than one fifth would today. That’s better than atheists are doing – half of Americans would deny them a teaching position in public schools. 

The picture on abortion is much murkier.  Young people are just as likely as their parents to take a conservative position, i.e., they don’t want it outlawed, but they do want it regulated. They are much less likely to approve of abortion for social or economic reasons, though they’re likely to support it if it affects the mother’s health or is the result of rape or incest. 

However, the issue is likely to be less “sticky” in holding the coalition of religious groups together. Young people are simply less religious than their parents’ generations.  Their attitudes toward abortion depend less on theology than on a social belief that people should take responsibility for their actions.  In that respect, it has more in common with their attitudes toward welfare cheats and crime prevention than with homosexuality. 

None of this means the Gordian knot of religion, politics and sex will soon fall apart.  But there is an opportunity to introduce new strands such as protecting God’s creation (environmentalism) or caring for the least advantaged of His creatures (job creation and healthcare). Not coincidentally, some of the "superchurches" are beginning to emphasize just those issues.




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