As I have traveled around the country, one line in my speeches always draws cheers: “The monologue of the Religious Right is over, and a new dialogue has now begun.” We have now entered the post-Religious Right era. Though religion has had a negative image in the last few decades, the years ahead may be shaped by a dynamic and more progressive faith that will make needed social change more possible.
In the churches, a combination of deeper compassion and better theology has moved many pastors and congregations away from the partisan politics of the Religious Right. In politics, we are beginning to see a leveling of the playing field between the two parties on religion and “moral values,” and the media are finally beginning to cover the many and diverse voices of faith. These are all big changes in American life, and the rest of the world is taking notice.
Wow, does Time Magazine’s Jim Wallis ever get it wrong.
Yes, the religious right is in disarray. It is discouraged by a presidency dismally mired in an unpopular war and over interested in the politics of big business. The religious right is dismayed over an array of candidates it finds difficult to support. All true. For now.
In order to substantiate the demise of the religious right, I would look for statistics showing a decline in the pro-life position among evangelicals or similar trends on human cloning, or euthanasia. Jim Wallis and Time Magazine will not find such evidence because this is not happening. If anything, the evangelical commitment to pro-life issues is growing. Yes, many evangelicals are overcoming some of their works-righteousness fears to perform the works of mercy. But, they show no more signs of taking up liberation theology or Marxism or democratic party politics than did Mother Theresa. Feeding the hungry does not make one a democrat, Mr. Wallis.
Political disarray and dismay do not equal demise. Given the opportunity to vote their conscience in a consistent fashion, the Old Religious Right will show itself to be the same religious right as before. The religious and political ideas of evangelicals are not changing as much as they are seeking a decent course for expression. Huckabee’s Iowa performance may be the first sign that the Evangelical vote has not lost its power.
I did notice that Jim lumps Catholics with Evangelicals in the religious right. This is a fundamental error. Yes, conservative Catholics tend to vote conservative. No news there. But, to understand American politics of the past 25 years, one must know that Catholics ARE the swing vote in America. States like Ohio, Florida, Louisiana, Michigan which are notorious swing states are heavily Catholic. Your heavily evangelical/Baptist states are all firmly Red. Since Reagan took the Republican party pro-life, the Catholic vote has been divided. Catholics often have to choose which issues are most important in a given cycle and vote on those issues. In ’04, Catholics voted Republican largely to avoid gay marriage and get pro-life justices on the high court. Both were a success and neither will be governing issues this cycle as they were in ’04. Many swing vote Catholics will likely vote on other issues this year. True. But swing vote Catholics were never part of the religious right. Catholics were never part of the Moral Majority of Jerry Falwell or the Christian Coalition.
Traditional Catholics, who are on the ascendancy in the Church, will always vote conservative. Evangelicals will always vote conservative. Swing vote Catholics and other swing voters will always … well, swing. So, what’s the news here, Mr. Wallis?