Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Is the Religious Right Dead?

It seems that whenever the Democrats are back in power there is talk about the demise of the Religious Right. Kathleen Parker, decides to bring up the end of the Christian right in her April 5 column. Blogger John Armstrong also wonders if this is the end of the road for the symbiotic relationship between the GOP and the Right. He, along with Parker, thinks there is a generational shift afoot that is changing the Christian Right:

The "deals" made with the GOP took most evangelical Christians out of the Democratic Party for more than three decades. This is changing. I would maintain that both parties are deeply flawed, on different points and directions. Christians can and should be found in both parties, working to influence and change their party accordingly. But the Christian right absolutized issues into "moral" vs. "immoral." Thus a pro-life Democrat became a virtual impossibility until the last ten years. Large numbers of young people are now seeking a new way, many of them energized by Obama's campaign. (Boomers from the Christian right believe this is the equivalent of a massive apostasy!) Time will tell what all this means but I maintain the last thirty-plus years was a net loss to the cause of Christ and his kingdom in the culture. I also maintain that the mission of the church suffered huge loss in the process.

Speaking as a gay Republican who has dealt with the Religious Right for a few years, I would be glad if the Religious Right were not as big a force in the GOP and in American culture. But I am not so convinced that this is the end of the Christian Right- at least not yet- for a few reasons.

First, it's hard to determine the future of a movement after one setback. We have only had two elections where the Republican Party has loss seats and the White House. That could be a trend, but then again, it might not be. The far right still has power in many parts of the GOP and they aren't going to give up anytime soon. It might not happen, but what happens if Obama and the Democrats make a huge blunder between now and the midterms in 2010. We could see the Republicans come back into power and look for people like James Dobson to be happy again.

Second, there is no visible counter movement in the GOP. Even if the GOP is weak in the wider society, as long as no one in the conservative movement is mounting an effective challenge against their hold on the Republican Party, then they will remain in power. If the Religious Right is losing power, then groups like Log Cabin Republicans, Real Republican Majority, Republican Majority for Choice, Republicans for Choice and the Republican Leadership Council should be working like mad to fill the gap and make sure they are no longer a force in the party. But most of these groups are either not taking the advantage or are so weak as to not really make a difference, at least at this time.

All of this is to say that the Religious Right will not go quietly into that good night. If conservatives who don't identify with the Religious Right want to limit their influence, then we need to make sure of that and not just hope for the best.

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