• Karen Tran-Harding

The religious hurdle of flipping states in the bible belt

Updated: Nov 23, 2020

“Don’t become entrenched in one opinion and get stuck there forever” – John Lydon, former Sex Pistols front man

I have watched my husband Cameron debate various members of his family and his friends over politics many times. A former self-proclaimed conservative from Kentucky who attended a McCain rally in 2007 and had Fox news in the background at all times has now turned progressive and turns on CNN first thing in the morning and then again once he gets home. He says that this change happened over time and actually started once he became a physician. Cameron and I work at the only academic hospital in our county – a referral center for the poorest and sickest patients. And after seeing his patient’s struggles both financially and health wise, my husband became a huge advocate for helping the poor and less fortunate.

Cameron changed his voting habits over time. But why will those, particularly in the south east region of the United States, likely may never change their minds? Why would certain people, especially women, choose to vote for Roy Moore in a special election in Alabama, an accused child sexual predator? Or support Brett Kavanaugh, even if there was strong evidence that he sexually assaulted Dr. Christine Blasey-Ford?

A lot of it may have to do with a strong, unrelenting faith.

The bible belt is known as a delineated area of most of the Southern United States by Wilbur Zelinsky in 1961. It is these regions in which Protestant denominations, such as Southern Baptist, Methodist, and evangelical, are the predominant religious affiliation. These are the areas most known for their socially conservative politics. Ever since living in Kentucky for 10 years, I have found that many people living in the poorer counties have such deep-rooted faith that they are happy living at a low income and truly don’t desire much more since they know their higher purpose in life involves God.

My father in a law is a Calvinist preacher, a major branch of Protestantism. He has lived in the Appalachian region of Eastern Kentucky with my mother in law for over 4 decades. And my in-laws are one of the reasons I came to understand why they will never change their minds on their conservative politics. I have spoken to many, many people throughout my life (especially in Kentucky) who admit to being “God-fearing” conservatives.

Take abortion rights. I know it would be near impossible to ever get my father in law to vote to allow abortions. Even if he read evidence that outlawing legal abortions could lead to increased maternal deaths due to mothers desiring to end their pregnancies via a dangerous illegal abortion. But the deeply religious believe they cannot allow abortions to happen or even not vote on it. In their eyes, not voting is kind of like the saying goes, if you aren’t with us, then you are against us. So you may be able to see why in elections, single policy voters may vote purely on an anti-abortion stance.

Religion can even play a factor when physicians apply for training positions. When I interviewed for an OB/GYN residency at a church affiliated hospital, I was told that I would never be able to counsel my patients on birth control at that hospital. And there was never going to be anyway around that even though contraception education tends to be a fundamental concept in being a trained obstetrician and gynecologist. Being that the Roman Catholic church finds contraception as a sin against nature, this would be a difficult rule to change (even though birth control use can prevent abortions).

It's a similar idea with LGBTQIA rights. When I was younger, I didn’t understand why some people were so fervently against gay marriage. I figured love was love and two people that want to be together should just be together. I didn’t see why that would even bother anyone. Couldn’t people just look the other way? Then I came to realize through adult eyes that some religious conservatives find that homosexuality is sinful. So even if their child is gay, of course they will always love their child. But it may be difficult for them to support their lifestyle.

Even though religious conservatives may never sway from their voting based on their beliefs, it’s my hope that at they will at least avoid engaging in harmful practices such as promoting damaging rhetoric. Because although some opinions can change over time, we must all keep in mind that religion itself tends to be a constant.

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