Religious Right Today, Religious Right Tomorrow, Religious Right Forever?
Bill Berkowitz printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Wed Mar 16, 2011 at 01:04:21 PM EST
No matter what you might have read in the mainstream press, no matter what you've heard, no matter what you've hoped for, these are not the end times for the Religious Right.

Before there was Google, there was the modern-day Religious Right. Before YouTube videos, Facebook, My Space, and tweets, there was the Religious Right. Before e-books, Wi-Fi, and Podcasts there was the Religious Right. Before IPods, IPads, and IPhone Apps, there was the Religious Right. And it is likely, as each of these late-twentieth/early twenty-first century marvels (read life's bare essentialsJ) morph into something even more social networky and more amazingly gadgety there will be the Religious Right.

Despite the predilection of its leaders and organizations to be deeply suspicions of and express disdain for modernity, the Religious Right has done one heck-of-a-job adapting to, harnessing and working with much of the above phenomena.

The death myth

Many of those who witnessed the rise of the Religious Right over the past thirty-plus years posited that the election of a Democratic Party-controlled Congress in 2006 followed by the election of Barack Obama as president in 2008, the deaths (the Rev. Jerry Falwell, Coral Ridge Ministry's Dr. James Kennedy), illnesses and retirements (Focus on the Family's Dr. James Dobson, the American Family Association's Donald Wildmon) of key Religious Right leaders in recent years, and the rise of the Tea Party movement, were all signs of a political movement that perhaps had reached its end times.

In defeat or in victory, however, the Religious Right has established the kind of enduring institutions, political relationships, and financial firepower to survive hard times, and take full advantage of the good times.

Given that the Religious Right has played such a major role in the nation's politics for quite some time, what are its prospects for sustaining that role?

Will the Religious Right continue to dominate?

In an article in the current issue Christian Ethics Today -- published by the Christian Ethics Today Foundation -- Dr. Anthony Campolo provides a sobering assessment of the current state of the Religious Right and its prospects for the future.

Campolo's piece, which is titled "Why The Religious Right Will Dominate" ( les.main&ArtID=1488), and was brought to my attention through a recent post at Talk2Action, examines the "reasons why Religious Right Evangelicals will continue to dominate religious discourse, not only in their own sector of the Christian community, but also in what transpires in mainline denominations."

Campolo is a professor emeritus of sociology at Eastern University, a college with about 4,000 students, located in Saint Davids, Pennsylvania, the western suburbs of Philadelphia. According to its website the university's "core values of faith, reason and justice are woven into all of its educational programs." He is also a former faculty member at the University of Pennsylvania, and the founder and president of the Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education (EAPE).

According to his website (, he has written more than 35 books and is a social activist who blogs regularly at Campolo is also a pastor and a social networker who has both a Facebook page and a Twitter following.

In other words, Campolo has been around the block a few times, and knows from whence he speaks.

Campolo acknowledges that while there are countervailing voices to the Religious Right within the Christian community, those voices do not have either the demonstrated grassroots or political following to really make a major difference. It will be, writes Campolo,  "Religious Right Evangelicals who will dominate both the image and practices representing Christianity to the general public for the next 50 years."

A major reason for its success is that the Religious Right has "both the financial means and technological know-how to make widespread use of modern electronic forms of communication." Religious Right politics are ubiquitous on the radio, where "there are now more than 1500 radio stations operated by owners who have a Religious Right political/theological bias." Fox News Channel hosts Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly, who, while not necessarily being of the Religious Right, "lend support to the Religious Right's rhetoric."

Preachers in mainline Christian denominations that have tried to buck the Religious Right have found that they've "lost credibility with those in their pews because their church members put more stock in what they heard on Christian talk radio than what they heard from the pulpit of their churches." Moreover, "disgruntled church members [have moved] to oust them from their pulpits. ... [or] voted against their ministers with their feet by simply walking away and joining other churches where the preachers were more harmonious with what they had heard over the NRB radio stations."

For Campolo, the Religious Right's ascendance is owed in part to its being ridiculed and not taken seriously by political progressives and religious moderates, thinking "that few reasonable Christians would take their harangues seriously."

In addition, Religious Right "laypersons ... realize[d] that with very little effort just a few of them are able to exercise enormous influence on what happens and who speaks at any kind of religious gathering. If a particular speaker who does not fit their profile of someone they deem politically and theologically 'safe,' they know that just a half dozen phone calls to the offices of the sponsoring organizations or to a denominational office can lead to the cancellation of that speaker."

And then, there's the growth of the Internet, which "helps cantankerous, disgruntled right-wing Evangelicals to spread far and wide anything about any moderate or progressive Christian leaders they want silenced."

Christian publishers too have apparently responded to "a handful of complaints raised about some authors that Religious Right Evangelicals consider 'dangerous' [and] will have the books written by such authors sent back to the distribution houses of the publishers."

Despite Campolo's initial gloom and doom message, he does find hope in the fact that "the overwhelming control the Religious Right has had on which books Christians can read is being broken" by the use of e-book readers; and, young people are "more and more circumventing Christian talk radio and getting their news reports off their computers," and are far more likely to be watching Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert than the Fox News Channel.

Campolo also cites such nascent evangelical movements as "Emergent Christians" or "one such split-off movement" called "Red Letter Christians" (, which "denounce as idolatry any attempt to make Jesus into either a Democrat or a Republican."

"Perhaps movements such as these will emerge as dynamic forces contributing to the public face that Christianity will have a few decades from now," Campolo points out. "But for the immediate present, and for the next several years, the Religious Right will reign supreme."


Once again you nailed the story. How many times do we have to go through this farce of clueless pundits prematurely predicting the end of the Religious Right?

_ _ _

Chip Berlet: Research for Progress - Building Human Rights
by Chip Berlet on Wed Mar 16, 2011 at 03:52:33 PM EST

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