Pundits and commentators are still trying to break down all the important tidbits of last week's election. As the analysis and finger pointing continues, some advocate a drastic operation to cure what they describe as an ailing GOP: amputating pro-life and traditional family positions. It's a naïve proposition that will have clear repercussions for the economy that more and more conservatives say should get exclusive billing in the party platform.
From the earliest days of the campaign, pundits said the 2012 presidential race hinged on economics. Persistently high unemployment rates, a ballooning debt and questions about tax policy dominated much of the first few months of election banter. But deep disagreement on social policy blistered its own corners of news coverage too. President Barack Obama's endorsement of same-sex marriage, the HHS mandate and pro-lifers' verbal gaffes on the campaign trail all brought social issues back to the forefront of media coverage.
No doubt some of these knee-jerk arguments for dropping social positions come in the face of the Republican Party's loss of so many key demographics, not least among them Hispanics and women. The youth vote also offers cause for concern. According to the researchers at Circle, Obama won 60 percent of voters between 18 and 29, compared to Mitt Romney's 37 percent.
The pundits calling for such radical change to conservative platforms no doubt see young voters as scorning some of the most contentious aspects of social conservatism. So in the name of pragmatism, they say, we should toss out the troubling issues.
But I'm convinced that political and social conservatism has merely had shoddy ambassadors on the political stage. The thing we young conservatives have to grasp well, and then learn to articulate to our peers, is that the gulf that seemed to exist this election between economic and social policy is a farce. The truth is that social and economic issues are tethered together. When one changes, the other will follow close behind.
So much of what I hear from young voters - even my Christian friends - is that the two most contentious social issues (abortion and same-sex marriage) come down to matters of personal preference. Abortion may be wrong, but we can't legislate it. Or that there is no harm in letting same-sex couples call their relationships marriage. In essence, families are good and well, but how we compose our families is a private matter.
Plenty of research dispels this notion. The makeup of our families invariably affects the economic well-being not just of those specific families, but of whole communities and society at large. Social and economic factors work together to promote or inhibit human flourishing. This is simply reality, and to neglect that reality is to neglect the cultural mandate given to us in scripture. Immediately following the election, Tiffany Owens wrote a piece for WORLD on Campus and put it beautifully: "For Christians, the biblical narrative is deeply concerned with what it means for people to flourish. It also offers a template for our understanding of history, the present, and the future. We should work out for ourselves what it means to face the turbulence of the times, the lessons of the past, and the uncertainty of the future with a mentality rooted in God's promise to redeem all things."
As I listen to discussions among many of my peers, such ideas seem to be lost on them, which puts the onus on the rest of us to better communicate such truths, particularly on our college campuses, in our churches and amongst our other spheres of influence. Meanwhile others seek to avoid the contentiousness of the "culture wars" for which the Religious Right is famous. And it's usually conservatives who get the mainstream blame for the wars. While I agree the vitriolic manner in which we carry out these debates needs to change, it's naive to think we can eliminate any kind of culture wars on the political stage.
University of Texas sociologist Mark Regnerus recently raised important questions about what institutionalized same-sex marriage could do to swaths of our population. The number of aborted babies - now absent from a nation of cultural and economic producers - has been well documented by pro-lifers for years. We young conservatives need to hone our skills of winsomely arguing that these contentious positions we hold aren't for the sake of denying others their rights. It's to promote a civic flourishing that benefits everyone: Democrat, Republican, rich, poor, young and old.