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November 13, 2012 4:08 PM Another Premature Burial For Christian Right

By Ed Kilgore

Brother Benen, among others, is enjoying the discomfiture of the Christian Right’s leadership in the wake of Election ‘12, wherein they not only participated in the GOP’s presidential and Senate defeats, but also got waxed in a number of ballot initiative fights, most notably (and for the first time ever) those involving same-sex marriage.

But I think he (among others) is going too far in suggesting that the Christian Right is on the edge of giving up or changing it goals, or could even begin to give way to a new generation of conservative evangelicals whose “focus is less on this kingdom, and more on the next.”

Yes, the election results were very bad news for the Christian Right, primarily because the re-election of Barack Obama puts its most immediate targets, the power of a president to issue regulations and make appointments to the federal bench, beyond its reach for another four years. The HHS contraception coverage mandate will stand, along with its legislative underpinning, the Affordable Care Act. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who will turn 80 in March, can now retire if she wishes without being held responsible for the reversal of Roe v. Wade and other key Court precedents. It’s unclear how long the chief conservative warrior on the Court, Justice Antonin Scalia, who turns 77 in March, can hang on. When the 40th anniversary of Roe comes round on January 22, the antichoice movement, which had hoped it would be celebrating the decision’s imminent demise, will be thrown back into the Long March of guerrilla warfare against reproductive rights.

But the Christian Right remains psychologically prepared for exactly that contingency. Steve appears to think quotations from Christian Right leaders acknowledging an increasingly difficult political landscape in an “increasingly secularized America” is an indication they may soon adjust their goals or retreat into more spiritual endeavors. These are people, however, who glory in perceived persecution; who like to compare themselves to the Christian Martyrs of the centuries, and more recent “witnesses” like the Confessing Church opposition to Hitler and today’s believers struggling for the freedom to worship in Islamic countries. Anyone expecting the Christian Right to fade away should remember this is a movement whose chief symbol, after all, invokes the state execution of its divine Founder.

When I read of Christian Right leaders discussing the uneven struggle with “secularized America,” I don’t assume they are losing faith; I figure they are contemplating more militant, even revolutionary means. And there is no reason whatsoever, let’s be clear, to think the Christian Right has lost its hold over its primary political vehicle, the Republican Party. In the ongoing intra-Republican post-mortem over the 2012 election, there may be some tactical repositioning on cultural issues (particularly in de-emphasizing opposition to same-sex marriage, where everyone can see the generational hand-writing on the wall, even among evangelicals), but no significant change.

Lest we forget, every single Republican candidate for president in 2012 toed the Christian Right line in every major detail. The second-place finisher in the nomination fight, Rick Santorum, was himself a Christian Right Culture Warrior of the most impeccable purity, willing to openly smite not just Secularists but Liberal Protestants and Catholics as infidels and instruments of Satan. The old chestnut of a “struggle for the soul” of the GOP between economic and cultural conservatives turned out to be as empty as ever, as the former embraced an aggressive campaign against legalized abortion and for “religious liberty” even as the latter continued to baptize laissez-faire capitalism as part of the Divine Plan.

The increasingly dominant strategy for a Republican revival, an aggressive Latino outreach, is right in the Christian Right’s wheelhouse. And so is the talk about a “modernized” messaging and turnout effort with the best technology money can buy—which should be apparent to anyone who has attended worship services in a megachurch. And for those flagging in the faith, there will be the 2014 midterm elections, where there will be significantly improved odds of another Republican victory that will (temporarily, to be sure) quell all the current discussion of ineluctable demographic trends that have already consigned conservatism to the dustbin of political history.

In a qualifier of his optimism about the Christian Right, Brother Benen observes:

The obituary for the religious right has been written many times, but the political movement, to varying degrees, has persevered through difficult times before. It’s easy to imagine Republican presidential candidates in 2016 and 2020 showing up at the same Christian conservative conferences, repeating the same pandering talking points to the same evangelical activists.

I’d say it’s not only easy to imagine, but hard to un-imagine. Yes, the Christian Right’s old leadership will gradually change, but that doesn’t mean the chimera of a “progressive” evangelical movement that will suddenly embrace climate change activism or social justice via public sector programs will materialize and take flight. And moreover, every serious name being bruited about for the next GOP presidential nomination (Ryan, Rubio, Bush, Jindal, McConnell, Haley) has solid-gold Christian Right credentials. Particularly if the conservative movement generally gets a second wind in 2014, it’s more likely that 2016 will be a more frenetic crusade for the Christian Right than the just-concluded cycle, than that it will represent an occultation. Get ready for more holy war.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

Comments

  • T2 on November 13, 2012 4:21 PM:

    Please. The hardcore evangelical Christian Right can't give up until the End Day comes. That's right, their focus is on Armageddon....where all the Democrats and minorities will be swept away and they, the evangelicals, will take their rightful place as the world's rulers. Give all that up? nah.

  • MuddyLee on November 13, 2012 4:22 PM:

    Ed, you are right as rain on this. I wish you were not. But look at Franklin Graham's statements this week and his support of Romney (formerly Mormonism had been called a "cult" on the Graham ministry website). Plus you have people like Jim DeMint saying next time let's run a REAL conservative. The battle continues. And the conservatives get to deduct the money they give to support the christian right.

  • boatboy_srq on November 13, 2012 4:27 PM:

    The modern FundiEvangelical machine is remarkably similar to the early Orthodox Church: as each "new Rome" fell (first Constantinople, then Kiev) each successor was more convinced of its righteousness - and its mission to save all of Christendom whilst preserving both its freedom and its separateness.

    If anything, it's defensible that the Fundies would align with other secessionist groups to demand a "new, True and Righteous United States™" - separate and distinct from the present-day US.

    Four hundred years ago, the English solved their comparable problem by sending their equivalent of today's religious wingnuts to Massachusetts Bay. I've already heard part and parcel from Texan liberals how they shouldn't be ignored or "sacrificed" in any attempt to loose the modern equivalent of Puritanism from the nation; but these nutters need to go someplace, and colonization is no longer an option. Anyone have any ideas?

  • Barbara on November 13, 2012 4:28 PM:

    I don't know if I agree with this. My husband is a Southern Baptist (albeit his church is much more moderate than average), but there is not a single person under the age of 30 who embraces the culture wars, particularly with respect to gays. I understand that you are seeing this from the perspective of reframing political structures to reflect religious principles -- but many churches are beginning to see the erosion of their congregations as a result of the perception that they are not much more than political operatives with a Christian face. As this erosion continues, I question the continued willingness of churches to marshal resources for nakedly partisan purposes, especially when they are as likely to undermine as to advance the church. So while this might continue in the deep South for some time, in swing states and in exurban areas ministers might be more interested in protecting their turf from being co-opted.

  • c u n d gulag on November 13, 2012 4:38 PM:

    I never expected LESS Holy War.

    These are Dominionist Evangelical Christians. And they won't be happy until they have dominion over this country, and this world. That's what being "Dominionist" means.

    I worry about escalating violence, more assassinations, and terrorist acts.

    In the documentary "Jesus Camp," the woman who runs it said that Muslim children are willing to become martyrs for Mohammed, so why wouldn't we want our children to become martyrs for Christ?
    Here's a link:
    http://www.commondreams.org/headlines06/0929-08.htm

    There are no loons, like religious loons!

  • Leopold von Ranke on November 13, 2012 4:45 PM:

    Think you got it right (no pun intended)here, Mr. Glastris. If you discount the "Great Awakenings" in US history, which were fundamentally (no pun intended) different from what has been going on over the last hundred years or so in Americo-Christian religion, this stuff waxes and wanes. A little ecumenism here, a little premillenialism there, a dusting of dominionism to frost the cake. The Fundamentalists (evangelical is a misnomer) seem to be on a thirty-year equivalent of a four-year-old's sugar high right now. Won't be going anywhere anytime soon.

  • Barbara on November 13, 2012 4:45 PM:

    cund gulag -- I don't doubt that those people are out there, but the success of a broad based coalition requires the participation of more than "10s" on the scale of 1 to 10 of religiously motivated voters. In order to have a hope of forming a majority, they probably have to get everything between 3 and 10. My point is that the lower categories will increasingly have other priorities as time goes on and their congregations change. It truly does them no good to find that politicians are in their camp when no one is in their pews any longer. I don't know the timeline here, but the trend is clear enough.

  • Robb on November 13, 2012 4:58 PM:

    The notion of a split between the religious right and economic conservatives has always been overstated.

    The evangelical groups have been led by those who made peace with Mammon for decades. They are sold a "Left Behind" ideology in which the government is evil.
    The conservative churches view government welfare and even secular charity as competition rather than help. This alien view comes from the fact that they value souls over lives, thus seeing helping others only as a way to improve their "character."

    This worldview is strong and will not go away soon. It will take at least a generation dying out.

  • jim on November 13, 2012 5:00 PM:

    The decline of Christianity in the US seems to be .8 or so percent per year, with the religious right wing similarly affected. Over 5 years that is about 4% The projection is that by 2030 Christianity will be a minority religion. These types of declines are slow.

    The religious unaffiliated is estimated to be about 20%, making it an attractive target population, but one without organization or leaders.

    What this implies is a slow increase in Democratic leaning voters and a corresponding slow decrease in Republican leaning voters until someone decides that upsetting the religious right is an acceptable risk or just assumes the religious right will vote Republican regardless rises in the GOP ranks.

  • boatboy_srq on November 13, 2012 5:28 PM:

    @Barbara on November 13, 2012 4:28 PM:

    I would be willing to accept that the SBC is mellowing as the more rabid specimens die off. I spent 4 years at an SBC university undergrad, and saw more than a little realism puncturing the illusion - er, liturgy - during that time.

    The thing that relying on that as a metric ignores the explosion of the unaffiliated and/or AoG megachurches over the last quarter century. Many of the folks you see softening on the culture wars are the loyalists; the more radical ones have left because "the church has left GOD - and left them." I've heard this kind of talk from the most extreme nutters in the "I-used-to-be-mainstream-Xtian-before-I-learned-they-were-Fallen" camp. They are the "New[est] Rome" - and nothing you could ever say will ever convince them that you yourself aren't some heretical heathen unGawdly person, because you just aren't in.

  • Rrk1 on November 13, 2012 5:43 PM:

    Repeating what the Europeans did with their troublesome religious types, i.e., exiling them to foreign lands, is extremely appealing were any foreign lands available. Antarctica comes to mind, and praying for the Rapture, with all its fire and brimstone, would be easier when you're freezing your ass off. At least there aren't any indigenous people there, as there were in North America, for the looney-toons to exterminate.

    The fundis, not unlike the 1% don't like democracy, but will happily use its mechanisms to overthrow one. I agree with Cund about increased secession activity, and quite probably some violence as they assert their drive for theocracy. Of course, the secession noises of the moment are more racially based than religious, but the end result would be the same.

    I have long thought that a partition of the country was inevitable as the religious right has gotten more strident and visible in its political activism. Such a schism could never happen peacefully, but lots of folks I know, not Rethugs and not fundis, think secession and separation is a great idea. Just to get rid of them. Much as the English crown, and the French, and the Germans, felt as they loaded ship after ship in the 17th and 18th Centuries with their nutcases and criminals.

  • RaflW on November 13, 2012 6:04 PM:

    Watching Huckabee huck his stuff on The Daily Show last night, I'd say professional religious cons are not done with the con yet.

    Far from it.

  • TCinLA on November 13, 2012 6:43 PM:

    Every word of your excellent analysis is why we have to begin working NOW for 2014, to maintain Democratic turnout and smash these bastards.

  • Zenster on November 13, 2012 8:25 PM:

    I love how the evangelicals drag out Dietrich Bonhoeffer every time they want to justify their opposition to the Antichrist. But where was he when the Reichstag burned, or after the night of the long knives, or the day after kristallknacht? It's great that he caught on at the end of the Reich and paid for it with his life. Martyrdom is glory. But they don't measure up by light years. They fight for the right to life but don't give a damn about all of the unwanted children resulting from the forced pregnancies. Lacking the courage of their convictions they rage on. Will anyone listen to them. I think not until they pony up.

  • Zenster on November 13, 2012 8:27 PM:

    I love how the evangelicals drag out Dietrich Bonhoeffer every time they want to justify their opposition to the Antichrist. But where was he when the Reichstag burned, or after the night of the long knives, or the day after kristallknacht? It's great that he caught on at the end of the Reich and paid for it with his life. Martyrdom is glory. But they don't measure up by light years. They fight for the right to life but don't give a damn about all of the unwanted children resulting from the forced pregnancies. Lacking the courage of their convictions they rage on. Will anyone listen to them? I think not until they pony up.

  • Robert Waldmann on November 13, 2012 8:50 PM:

    Evangelicals for immigration reform seems highly relevant to this discussion.
    http://tpmdc.talkingpointsmemo.com/2012/11/evangelical-immigration-reform.php?ref=fpnewsfeed

    note "Focus on the Family"

    They don't believe in evolution but seem to be evolving faster than Sean Hannity himself.

  • Cathymac on November 13, 2012 9:03 PM:

    I'm fine with burying them prematurely - just so we bury them. Please proceed.

  • RepubAnon on November 13, 2012 10:44 PM:

    Remember in 2008 when he Republican Party was doomed? All it takes is for Greek-style austerity to be imposed here, and the Radical Right (our equivalent of Greece's "Golden Dawn") will return like the cockroaches that they are.

  • bluestatedon on November 14, 2012 12:43 AM:

    The notion that the Christianists are going to truly moderate their views is only a marketing tweak designed to get more votes. Given that Democrats of all colors will assume their customarily supine position on election day in 2014, we can be assured that the fundies will see their electoral fortunes swing wildly their way again.

  • thewarthatkilledachilles on November 14, 2012 8:38 AM:

    RepubAnon on November 13, 2012 10:44 PM:

    Remember in 2008 when he Republican Party was doomed? All it takes is for Greek-style austerity to be imposed here, and the Radical Right (our equivalent of Greece's "Golden Dawn") will return like the cockroaches that they are.

    A response that can only be improved upon by repetition .

  • Josh G. on November 14, 2012 10:08 AM:

    "These are people, however, who glory in perceived persecution; who like to compare themselves to the Christian Martyrs of the centuries"

    It's difficult to be a martyr when you die in bed of old age. And that's what is happening to the culture warriors. The current generation of fanatics has largely failed at convincing their children, at least on the most politically charged subjects. Abortion is a partial exception here, but younger evangelicals are much less likely to obsess over homosexuality, and much more likely to see environmentalism and care for the poor as important tenets of the faith.
    The truth is that the Religious Right as a political movement was always a bit of a fraud. What really got it started wasn't any of the issues they mouth off about in public today; it was the rescission of tax exemptions for racially-segregated "Christian" schools. As with so many things in America, it all comes down to race in the end. But since this justification can't be stated out loud (many evangelicals don't want to admit it even to themselves), it can't be transmitted to the next generation. And since the whole point of Protestantism is private interpretation of the Bible, with no pope or church hierarchy to enforce a particular view, younger evangelicals can and do remake their ancestral faith in their own image.

  • boatboy_srq on November 14, 2012 10:50 AM:

    @Josh G.: in other words, the next step for the culture warriors will be to find ways to get themselves maimed in the service of Gawd. Getting killed doing so will wait until after the next Dem electoral sweep.

    "A bit of a fraud"? Really? The TV Preacher meme has always been about scamming the elderly out of their SocSec cheques for the mansions and cars and baubles. See: Bakker, Jim & Tammy Faye. Schools were a convenient add-on to the scheme. The troubling part is they've begun scamming kids out of their student loans, parents out of their kids' piggy banks, and otherwise-intelligent-and-worldly-wise professionals out of tuition and membership fees for the "in" universities and associations.

    One bone to pick, though: Protestantism was "private interpretation of the Bible" insofar as The Book had before that time been the sole province of the clergy - and all sorts of less-than-savory "interpretations" been handed down to the (illiterate) laity as a consequence. The newfangled FundiEvangelical approach is to cherry-pick a handful of passages that are convenient to the kulturwehrmacht - and forget the other, less convenient 90% - not to read The whole Book and see where power-hungry cardinals and monseignors got it wrong (as was the case 1517-1648).