Mark A. Smith is professor of Political Science and an adjunct professor of Comparative Religion and Communication at the University of Washington. His research focuses on economic and religious groups, ideas, and influences in American politics. In his new book, Secular Faith: How Culture Has Trumped Religion in American Politics, Dr. Smith argues that religion is not nearly the unchanging conservative influence in American politics that we have come to think it is and is best understood as responding to changing political and cultural values rather than shaping them.
Social media has been buzzing over Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy’s comments regarding same-sex marriage. “We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that,” Cathy is quoted as saying in the Baptist Press. Cathy, who acknowledges that Chick-fil-A’s support for the traditional family may not be popular with everyone, stands by the company’s position: “Guilty as charged,” he says. CNN reports that response to the article has been mixed, with both support for and condemnation of Chick-fil-A’s position filling Facebook and the Twitterverse.
A recent survey found that a slim majority of Americans (52%) reported that they favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally, compared with 44% who are opposed. With opinion shifting dramatically on this issue over the last few years, there are now religious groups on either side of the same-sex marriage debate.
Cathy grew up in the Baptist church, and this week’s Baptist Press article claims that he continues to act upon the values he learned there as a child. Support for same-sex marriage is low among white evangelical Protestants, with only about 2-in-10 (21%) reporting that they favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally. More than three quarters (77%) are opposed. Additionally, few minority Christians favor same-sex marriage (43%). On the other hand, white mainline Protestants and Catholics both show majority support for same-sex marriage (56% and 59%).
While 53% of Americans report that same-sex marriage is “not that important” of an issue compared to other issues facing the nation, the recent Chick-fil-A controversy nevertheless illustrates the prominence of the debate in the public square as the election nears, as well as the critical role that religion plays in shaping this public policy.