Rivalries make good news headlines. Football rivalries, gang rivalries, or political rivalries spice up the evening news and, presumably, draw an audience.
So the talking heads remind us every day that Americans are in a fight. Partisanship rules. We're Red or Blue, pro-choice or pro-life, supporters or opponents of same-sex "marriage." There is no consensus. Or is there?
In his new book, Beyond a House Divided: The Moral Consensus Ignored by Washington, Wall Street, and the Media, Carl Anderson examines a mountain of polling statistics and has some surprising news. Anderson writes, "In dealing with many high profile issues, we have found consensus where conventional wisdom would have us believe it is most unlikely: on the issues of religion in public life, abortion, marriage, and the role of government, among others."
Anderson writes that Americans, by a margin of nearly two to one, share a common moral compass and are, as a result, at odds not with each other, but rather with governmental, media, and financial institutions. We care much more about right and wrong than we do about right and left.
For example, on abortion, rather than an unbridgeable gulf between pro-choice and pro-life, Anderson reports that a full 79 percent of the population would like to see significant restrictions on abortion in America. And that includes 67 percent of those who identify themselves as pro-choice.
As a result, he concludes, "We don't need to move the two polarized halves of the American population toward a compromise position on abortion; we need to start our conversation in the place where the overwhelming majority of Americans already stand."
The same is true with marriage. While we keep hearing the fallacious statistic that "one in two marriages ends in divorce," the truth is much more encouraging. Most first marriages are still intact. Most singles want to marry. And why not? Marriage is a key component in our sense of happiness. Ninety-one percent of married people report that they are "happy" or "very happy." And nine out of ten married people say that, given the choice, they would marry their current spouse all over again.
Now, so-called gay "marriage" divides some, but not most of us. Anderson's writes that given the choice between same-sex "marriage," civil unions, and no legal recognition for same-sex partners, only 34 percent favor marriage. Again, nearly two-thirds affirm that so-called same-sex "marriage" is not marriage at all.
While documents like the Manhattan Declaration are regularly smeared as the work of partisans and extremists, quite the opposite is true. Carl Anderson's book makes the clear case that if you believe in restricting abortion, in traditional marriage, and in other traditional values you are, whether Republican, Democrat or Independent, part of the great American consensus.
It reminds me of what Sociologist Peter Berger used to say: If India is the most religious nation in the world, and Sweden the most irreligious, America is a nation of Indians governed by Swedes. We, in fact, are in the mainstream. It's the elite who are out of step. So if we focus our energies on working together, we can bring about the great civic and national renewal so many of us seek.
Chuck Colson's daily BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print.
Publication date: January 13, 2011