I’ve tried a couple of times this week to pour a bit of cold water on the excited progressive meme that the Christian Right is signaling “retreat” in the culture wars, based on some statements by the Southern Baptist Convention’s new political spokesman Russell Moore, and by the sense Pope Francis is pushing Catholics away from engagement on culture-war issues.
But someone who knows a lot more than I do about the Christian Right—certainly about its evangelical wing—has weighed in with some cautionary notes of her own. Sarah Posner emphasizes that the Christian Right is a grassroots movement of great staying power, and that it’s a mistake to focus on Moore or any other leader as capable of “calling a retreat” in the culture wars:
The religious right is not a static movement. Although there are still some who go the fire and brimstone route, many others—particularly those telegenic enough to attain a position like Moore’s—are going to give the “culture war” issues a softer touch. But make no mistake: they still see these as cultural issues, and still see their essential role as engagement in the public square as witnesses for (their view of) Christ’s teachings.
The religious right is not a movement with one or even two or three or four leaders. Because it’s a political and cultural undertaking that is playing a long game—rather successfully—it has produced many disciples. (In contrast, liberals tend to see small moments within that long game—like Moore replacing Land—as more consequential than they should.) Moore has an office in Washington, and a press operation. He has a title. He’s smart and thoughtful. I read him. I follow him. He will be on your television a lot. But like with Land (although in a different way) this coverage will overplay his influence. He’s not a general. He can’t order a retreat.
Posner also notes that any signs of “retreat” are largely confined to the same-sex marriage issue, where the Christian Right is indeed losing by any objective measurement. But there are other issues where that’s not necessarily the case:
Pay attention, too, to issues not in retreat, in particular, concerns couched as ones of religious liberty, particularly the contraception coverage requirement under the Affordable Care Act. This is an emerging and growing battleground—one the Supreme Court has been asked to wade into. Here’s Moore, just this week, on Fox News (h/t Denny Burk):
“You can see this happening all over the country not only related to Obamacare. This is just one fiery rafter in a burning house. Religious liberty is under assault all over the place in this country in ways that I think are probably more pronounced than we have seen since the founding era People who are doing good things in their communities motivated by religious convictions are simply being driven out of the public square because they won’t sing out of the hymn book of the church of the sexual revolution. I just don’t think we can live this way as Americans.”
A fiery rafter in a burning house. Keep that language in mind the next time someone tells you the culture wars are over.
Amen to that.
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