It’s always been kind of curious to me that conservative Christians, when evaluating policy changes within more moderate to progressive mainline denominations, always seem to want to measure the morality of a decision based on their perception of its impact on attendance. For example, when the Episcopal Church decided to approve a test liturgy for the Marriage of same gender loving (SGL) couples, conservatives critical of that decision pointed to declining membership numbers in the Episcopal Church as proof that the decision was wrong. They apparently forgot to mention that all denominations are in decline – even the arch conservative Southern Baptist Convention. They also apparently forgot to mention, or perhaps do not understand, that the implosion of the Church in America – and Europe, for that matter – is a complex issue with many causes.
To understand the impact of a particular change on any group on has to allow the change to be implemented – you can’t simply announce the day after a vote to change something that you already know its impact. What’s more, to evaluate one particular issue and its impact on a group, you have to be able to hold all other variables constant – something that is virtually impossible outside a laboratory. It is a popular misunderstanding that just because one thing follows another in time it is caused by the first. In 1968 the Detroit Tigers won the World Series and Richard Nixon as elected President the following month. That doesn’t mean that the Detroit Tigers’ victory caused Nixon’s victory.
An even more basic issue at work here is asking when did popularity became the measure of whether a specific action is right or wrong? If your neighborhood is full of racists, it may be a really popular idea to burn a cross on the front lawn of the Jewish family down the street, but that doesn’t make it right – unless you are essentially a moral midget – with apologies to little people everywhere. The idea that the moral rectitude of a decision is based on its popularity inevitably leads to no change, no innovation, no righting of wrongs, and no justice because if there is one thing human beings resist with a passion, that thing is change! One doesn’t properly even consider how a decision will be received when one weighs whether a decision is right or wrong – the moral person does the right thing no matter the consequences.
In fact, there’s a good chance the Church Universal is in decline precisely because it confuses morality with popularity. The population at large doesn’t have this problem, but because segments of the Church are committed to supporting a world view that is between two and four thousand years old its moral culture comes directly from the members of the flat earth society. What we desperately need are progressive leaders who don’t believe the old progressive line that we can’t ruffle anyone’s feathers – a believe that fails to recognize that each of us, and only us, are responsible for our own feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. If people don’t like the actions we take on behalf of justice that is their problem, not ours. They will either get over it or die mad, but in the meantime we will be helping people who need our help – a much more important and righteous cause than assuaging the little feelings of the world’s bigots.