Meet the New Baloney: Same as the Old Baloney
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Tue Jan 04, 2011 at 10:32:38 PM EST
The new baloney about the Religious Right emerging from Inside the Beltway is a lot like the old baloney. It's a variation on such baloney classics that the Religious Right is dead or just about; that the culture wars are over, (any second now.. really... fer sure this time!); secularists are driving people of faith from the public square; and that common ground on abortion has been identified resulting in increased civility all around that that said common ground will inform government policy from now on. That such baloney goes unrecognized so often by so many is an enduring mystery to me.

But back to our story.

Newsweek recently gave prominent coverage to some baloney from  "moderate evangelicals" aligned with the Obama administration. Specifically mentioned were Tony Campolo, Joel Hunter, Jim Wallis.  Newsweek highlights a poll from August when the Fall election campaign was heating-up, showing that evangelicals care more about the economy than about abortion. This might have been taken as unsurprising in a time of economic crisis, but Newsweek took it as proof that:
As the economy has become the political priority for liberals and conservatives alike, the traditional family-values issues have been blunted -- not in their importance to individuals but as weapons in the political theater.

Consider that this was an article published in December, referencing a meeting of moderate evangelicals held on November 30th -- and that it made no mention of the historic conservative wave election that has just swept at least 48 (according to NARAL) antiabortion conservatives into Congress.

Mother Jones reports that the antiabortion majority has announced its agenda.

If you thought the abortion battle during the health care debate was fierce, just wait until Republicans take over the House in January. Strengthened by congressional victories in the midterm elections, Republican abortion foes plan to push hard in the new year. Their top goals: enshrine tough restrictions on abortion funding into federal law and defund Planned Parenthood. And they'll have Democratic help to do it.

Although it may be unlikely that much if any of the anti-abortion legislation that passes the House will make it into federal law -- that does not change the fact that the voters elected antiabortion candidates to Congress and that those legislators are acting exactly as they believe their voters and their leaders expect them to.

As for homosexuality, polling in recent years has shown that there is a softening among conservatives including among young white evangelicals. And conservatives are in the midst of making some awkward adjustments. But that same polling data have also shown that young white evangelicals are more profoundly antiabortion than their parents.  Therefore, predictions of the voting behavior of this micro-demographic group is, to be generous, highly speculative.  

Finally, it is worth underscoring that homosexuality remains a deal-breaker for leading organizations of the Religious Right. So when the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) decided to include the gay conservative group GOProud, major Religious Right organizations defected en mass, making national news. The bolters include: American Family Association, Family Research Council, Focus on the Family, Concerned Women for America, American Principles Project, American Values, the Center for Military Readiness, Liberty Counsel, National Organization for Marriage, and Americans for Truth about Homosexuality.

It would be more than premature to declare that a major split in the conservative movement is underway based solely on the CPAC episode (although a fault line has clearly been exposed).  But more importantly, the entire story challenges the notion that politically interested evangelicals care less about homosexuality in American politics than they used to. In fact, it is clear that the leading organizations of the Religious Right will go to the political mat with their closest allies to ensure the exclusion of a small group of gay conservatives -- and walk away if they must.

Indeed, the fissure over GOProud is not the only one quietly roiling the Religious Right.  Focus on the Family has softened its rhetoric and dropped reparative therapy since the retirement of James Dobson -- as Mark Potok writes in Intelligence Report (the magazine of the Southern Poverty Law Center.) But as important as Focus on the Family is, it has never been the most politically and electorally focused organization on the Religious Right. That has been largely the province of the Family Research Council (originally a political arm of Focus on the Family) and 35 state level think tanks and political action groups, currently organized as subsidiaries of CitizenLink, the current political arm of Focus on the Family. Just to keep things interesting, CitizenLink is considering participating in CPAC this year as a "counter" to the presence of GOProud.

Before Newsweek took the interpretive plunge with a squad of faith-based soldiers in Obama's political army considering the 2012 battlefield, they might have recalled the old epistemological saw that warns us: "the map is not the territory."  Political reality really is not to be confused with any particular map or the interpretation of any particular map reader. This problem has appeared so often for so long that last year I raised it in an essay at Religion Dispatches, underscoring "the temptation to draw sharp final conclusions from highly transitory polling data--as opposed to evaluating the players, ideologies, institutions, and leaders of the religious right."

That said, consider the analysis by Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association regarding the CPAC debacle:  

Conservatism, of course, is a three-legged stool of strong national defense, fiscal responsibility, and pro-family values. CPAC, by including GOProud, is systematically sawing off the third leg of the stool. The conservative movement, and America along with it, will collapse without third leg being strong and sturdy.

We shouldn't forget that this event is called the Conservative Political Action Conference, not the Libertarian Political Action Conference. There is nothing conservative about homosexuality or the homosexual agenda, not one single solitary thing.

The white evangelical young people polled have  experienced evangelical public identity and  involvement in "social issues" as summed up:
  1. anti-abortion
  2. anti-gay.
Many of the young people have known peers who have come out as gay, and don't have the fear of the unknown that characterizes their parent's age cohort's typical over-reaction.

The majority of white evangelical college-age young women and middle and high school girls have not faced their own unplanned pregnancy and the economic consequences of bearing and raising a child. They have been lucky or have been diligent about birth control. (Yes, I realize that the white evangelicals have abortions at a rate similar to the general population.)

The white evangelical girls and young women know perfectly well that they will be stigmatized by their church and their social group for doubting the prevailing identity-forming ideology. The price of free speech for them is too high. The suburban/exurban white evangelical culture seeks to be totalizing for its members - own schools, own gyms (in the churches), own media, own novels... It takes some courage to walk away into the rest-of-world.

by NancyP on Fri Jan 07, 2011 at 06:45:31 PM EST

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