Religious Right Reinventing Itself
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Mon Mar 10, 2008 at 04:36:21 PM EST
Bishop Harry R. Jackson -- a leader of the new Religious Right -- points out in a column at the rightist web site,, that he is in a position to see what others cannot.  He argues that the Religious Right has "matured as a movement;" is growing "in its influence in American politics;" and that far from falling apart, as some keep insisting,
"it is growing, expanding, and being rejuvenated. The range of issues on which its leaders are willing to take a stand is expanding, and the movement is finding surprising partners and creating new coalitions.

What critics see as "splintering" is actually the growing pains that precede a healthy expansion. To their frustration, critics of the religious Right will soon realize that the movement is neither losing steam nor walking dejectedly away from the public policy arena. Rather, it is adapting to the changing political environment and broadening its ranks while holding firmly to the principles that have united us thus far."

Premature death notices? Some continue to live in a world of fantasy. The religious Right is alive and well... and you are here to prove it.

For as long as I can remember, there have been pundits, political leaders, and journalists who pooh pooh the significance, the political power or resilience; or potential longevity of the Religious Right -- when even a casual reality check would strongly suggest another conclusion is warranted. (Now, as seemingly always, there is a current of such punditocratic buzz.)

Religious Right leaders no doubt enjoy such lightheadedness on the part of their political opponents and reporters who ought to know better. At the same time, one can also hear Jackson's resentment in not being taken seriously. The Religious Right has long taken effective advantage of being underestimated, even while the disdain with which they have been held by others, further spins the constellation of resentments that animates much (but certainly not all) of the politics of the movement.  

Ever since the formation of the religious Right in the late 1970s, there have been rumors of its demise. The birth of the Moral Majority helped pull the Right from obscurity. Its leaders determined that they would not shy away from controversy, nor would they yield to criticism; they would work with others to restore the moral foundations of the nation. In a short time the new movement became highly influential in American politics. Its commitment to nonnegotiable, explicitly moral and biblical values caused it to be revered and ridiculed, embraced and eschewed, loved and loathed. But there was one thing few politicians could afford to do: ignore it.

The movement was most unwelcome by the Left, and from the start the media and liberal Christians busied themselves writing the religious Right's obituary. With almost predictable regularity, like the paper they were written on, headlines were recycled heralding the so-called waning influence of evangelicals and their splintering unity. With each election cycle, hope sprung anew in editorial rooms and political back offices that this would be the year the religious Right's strength would begin to fade. Some observers even had the audacity to actively explore what American politics would look like once the religious Right was gone.

Jackson and Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council (probably the premier Religious Right lobby in DC)  have coauthored a book, Personal Faith, Public Policy that seeks to chart a course for the Religious Right, taking into account recent changes in evangelicalism, and no doubt, positioning themselves as leaders of the future, as the founding generation of Religious Right leaders passes from the scene.  

In a post at the Family Research Council web site, Tony Perkins quotes from the book description.

Jackson and Perkins write that the religious Right has experienced significant growth in recent years, becoming more diverse in a number of important ways, from race to age to political affiliation; however, they conclude that unifying these coalitions has been and will continue to be a challenge to the religious Right.

In an effort to unite these diverse coalitions, Jackson and Perkins advocate building upon the pro-life, pro-family issues that have been the mainstay of the religious Right. They intend to expand the religious Right's influence into immigration policy, poverty and social justice, racial reconciliation, and global warming.

"While some argue that evangelicals lose influence when they fail to vote as a bloc for a particular political party, the ability to seed both parties and operate as a political 'free agent' could prove to have a much greater impact on actual public policy. As a result of the broadening of the evangelical movement, both political parties will increasingly have to compete for support of evangelicals to succeed. This, we believe, will ultimately result in policies that are more faith-friendly," write Jackson and Perkins.

The Religious Right is clearly very busy reinventing itself. Exactly what shapes it will take, or how successful it will be, of course remains to be seen. But seeing is the point: It will be worth paying attention to what actually happens, and avoid buying into narratives about the supposed death, decline or irrelevance of the Religious Right -- all  of which are based, at the moment, on little more than wishful thinking.

While it is encouraging to see some evangelicals waking up to global warming and poverty, it is important to examine their key issues. These are not changing, and it is not necessarily healthy to see they use their twisted priorities to take over the democratic party as well. Also when you read the left blogs, (and I do and feel at home) the attacks against all things religious are becoming increasingly stark and common. Some leadership in the Christian right are showing signs of increased sophistication but the movements strength is in the foot soldiers of the movement, and they are still becoming increasingly locked into the party line and more passionate about their positions. It is time to be very aware, and very cautious about joining with the fringes of this dangerous group of power hungry zealots who would impose their world view on the whole population.

by chaplain on Tue Mar 11, 2008 at 11:09:19 AM EST
that the religious right is dead, in decline, or otherwise irrelevant is a powerful frame that has a lock on the thinking of a lot of people.  It is one of the greatest obstacles to clear thinking and reporting about the actual state of the religious right.

Thus our greatest adversaries are, in some sense, those who profess concern about the religious right and unconcern at the same time.

by Frederick Clarkson on Tue Mar 11, 2008 at 12:57:16 PM EST

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