Dallas Morning News,
Each week we will post a question to a panel of about two dozen clergy, laity and theologians, all of whom are based in Texas or are from Texas. They will chime in with their responses to the question of the week. And you, readers, will be able to respond to their answers through the comment box.
How do religious institutions or organizations know when to change?
That's the question I would like you to think about this week, in light of the announcement by President Obama that he now favors the right of gay and lesbian couples to marry.
The president isn't the only person who has changed his views over time. Last week, the New York Timestraced how attitudes on same-sex marriage have changed significantly since just the 1990s.
In 1996, the Times reported, 27 percent of Americans favored same-sex marriages. Now, 47 percent favor them.
Views on other issues, such as interracial marriage, also have shifted. In 1972, the Times noted, 59 percent of Americans favored it. By 2002, the number had risen to 90 percent.
But on other topics, nothing has really changed. In 1975, 75 percent of Americans thought abortion should be legal under either certain conditions or in all circumstances. The Times reported that number is virtually the same today. In 2011, 77 percent favor the right to abortion in either limited or unlimited circumstances.
Of course, most of us will claim that we make our decisions by principles, not polls. And that is undoubtedly true. What's more, many principles don't change over time. For example, stealing remains an offense today much like it was when the Ten Commandments were handed down.
But clearly societal attitudes change in some key areas. And religious organizations, like many other institutions, are forced to respond.
So, how do they do that, especially when it comes to issues like same-sex marriage, where attitudes are clearly changing?
NITYANANDA CHANDRA DAS, minister of ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness), Dallas
We never compromise on our principles but the details of practice will change according to time, place, and circumstance. Such a change must be carefully done by a spiritually advanced person of proper discrimination under the guidance of sādhu, śāstra, and saṅga (the saints of the past, the scripture, the saints of the present).
One example is this is Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura (1874-1937), who had taken a vow of sannyasa, a renounced monk, for the purpose of serving God as a preacher. Such sannyasis were forbidden to ride in vehicles as it was seen contrary to the act of simplicity. Such an act is to support the principle of not coveting objects for our enjoyment.
But Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī did not see the vehicle as material item but rather as God's property and usable for His service. However, he did stipulate to himself and his students that if their spiritual progress and outreach functions is at all decreased by use of vehicles they should then not use it at all.
Therefore, the overall result can be judged by those who are sufficiently spiritually intelligent and can know what is of true benefit.