Fndings suggest that the more a church changes to become “relevant” to the dominant culture, the more “irrelevant” it becomes to congregants.
Just one verse each day.
A recent survey commissioned by the Catholic League examined the opinions of US Catholics of the Church’s positions on social issues. One of the most interesting conclusions of the study was that most Catholics do not believe that the Church should acquiesce to calls to change its principles based on public opinion.
Should the Church change?
When asked if it was a good or bad thing for any religion to maintain its principles in the face of changing world views, 56% responded in the affirmative and 33% believed a religion should change. This split, however, began to skew when the focus turned to the Catholic Church, with 66% stating that even if they personally disagreed with a particular principle of the Church, they would not like to see it change. Only 27% said they felt the Church should conform to modern secular stances on social issues.
Fascinatingly, even the 55% of the group that say they rarely or never attend Mass responded that the Catholic Church should not change its positions to meet popular demands. The gap between this group and weekly churchgoers (86%) was not nearly as big as was anticipated. Pro-lifers (84%) and people of color (77%) were two other groups that were most likely to believe the Church should stand fast to its principles.
Bill Donohue, President of the Catholic League, personally included the final question of the study: “If the Catholic church did NOT change its positions as many have suggested, how would that affect your commitment to the church?”
A plurality of Catholic respondents (41%) said that they would remain as committed to the Church as they have been thus far, while 29% said they would be even more committed if they saw the Church actively swim against the tide. This means that a solid 70% of Catholics would remain as committed, or grow even more so, if the Catholic Church does not change its positions on social issues. Only 7% suggested that they would be less inclined to support the Catholic Church if no changes were made.
Catholics also acknowledge that changes to a religion’s guiding principles to conform with social trends can have an adverse effect on attendance. The survey noted that “religions which tailor their teachings to what is popular are losing members faster than those that keep to traditional moral teachings.” When asked to explain this phenomenon, about 60% of Catholics said it was because the religion went too far in their adjustments, while 35% said it was because the religion didn’t go far enough.
In a separate report, the Catholic League found that the United Methodist Church, along with several other mainstream Protestant denominations, is shrinking “amid debates over sexuality and theology.” The findings suggest that the more a church changes its stances to become “relevant” to the norms and values of the dominant culture, the more “irrelevant” the church becomes to its congregants.
The vast majority of the faithful view the Catholic Church as the moral compass of the United States. A solid three-quarters (75%) of Catholics surveyed said that the Church is an important voice of morality within the nation. This group even included about 70% of those who say they rarely or never attend Mass. Furthermore, 74% of respondents said they want to hear priests preach more on moral issues.