Daily Planet, 4/2014

The 19th Amendment, the one that gave women the right to vote, was passed by Congress in June, 1919 and went out to the state legislatures for ratification. Fourteen months later enough states had voted yes, and it became part of the Constitution.

But along the way…Virginia, Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, Maryland and Delaware voted no.

Let me repeat that: these Southern states voted against giving women the right to vote.   (North Carolina apparently didn’t vote on the amendment in this time period.)

Viewed 95 years later, these votes look ridiculous. But we shouldn’t just cluck our tongues and shake our heads. There’s a lesson here for our time. The lesson is about what has come to be called “social conservatism.”

Conservatism is part of our heritage as Southerners. And the votes against women’s suffrage were pure-and-simple conservative votes – in the dictionary sense: “a disposition in politics to preserve what is established.”

Preserving what is established implies that somebody wants to un-preserve what is established. That somebody are liberals.

I grew up in a conservative home in Georgia.  Preachers talked about “modernists.” The world around us was teeming with “liberal” ideas:   modern dancing, lipstick, movies, playing cards, women bobbing their hair and wearing men’s clothes.

The no votes on the 19th Amendment were driven by this same anti-liberal sentiment . The Bible is clear that Christian women are to be subservient to men. For example, First Corinthians 14:35: “If [women] will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.”

Did Southern conservatives think they would actually win their fight against women voting?   I don’t know. But I’m sure it didn’t matter. They had to dig in against liberals who were threatening to topple the world as it was supposed to be forever, changing the role of women.

Does anybody today feel that women shouldn’t vote? Not many.

This is a powerful clue for me in understanding today’s social conservatives. They fiercely oppose change that threatens their traditional ideas of right and wrong.   But over time, what was “wrong” is accepted.

For example, the Christian college I attended no longer forbids students’ going to movies or dancing, or female students’ wearing slacks.   Generations that came after me – most notably those that donate to the college – embraced change.

In the 19th century, Southern preachers found abundant support for slavery in the Bible – Ephesians 6:5, for example, where slaves are told to obey their masters as if they were obeying Christ. (Interestingly, abolitionists argued more from the American principles of liberty and equality than from the Bible.) I remember the biblical arguments I heard as a kid in support of segregation.

Nobody but kooks today think Negro slavery was appointed by God, and most Southerners now realize the evils of segregation.

So it will be with homosexuality.  As time passes now, and more and more gays come out of the closet, people will discover that they know homosexuals – people they love and respect. Opinions of church members will change, and the issue will pass.

Social issues are by their very nature temporary. Society changes over time until a new consensus is reached. And issues cease to be issues.

Why do I care what social conservatives think and do? My next column in this space will be about politics and social conservatism – how their bloc voting is impacting the future of us in North Carolina.