During the last two weeks there have been several nationally known writers or political pundits who have taken swipes at the remaining visible leadership of the religious right. Critics from the left say that “Humpy Dumpty” has finally fallen and cannot put himself back together again. Critics from the right say that movement leaders have failed to direct their ground troops. Skeptics from both sides agree that the recent deaths of leaders such as D. James Kennedy and Jerry Falwell mark the end of an era.
But what next?
Seen as a group of sexually repressed, white men who hunger and thirst for power, this movement has been characterized as being anti-black, anti-woman, anti-poor, and anti-gay. In today’s America, these stereotypes hardly seem American and definitely not Christian. These images are not only outdated, they are untrue.
Anticipating a change, several reporters have even attempted to anoint new leaders and to magnify natural divisions within a massive grass roots movement. Many groups are pulling for their “guys or gals” to emerge as the new leadership. The evangelical movement is going through a maturing process, which will eventually increase its influence in the next few political cycles. Unlike the past twenty years in which television ministries like Falwell’s Old Time Gospel Hour and Kennedy’s Coral Ridge Hour trumpeted directives to the faithful, local pastors with huge media ministries will probably not lead the way – except in select black churches.
Popular Christian teachers are becoming increasing wary of jeopardizing speaking engagements, members support, media partners, or product sales. The prophetic role of the politically active is not an assignment toward which many pastoral media darlings are running. Black ministers seem to have been given a little more leeway to engage in the culture wars than their white counterparts. While many black parishioners remember that it was the clergy-led, civil rights movement that advanced the national status of blacks in this nation, pastors of all ethnicities will need increasingly focused policy groups to help point the way.
The new religious right will be assisted by thousands of pastors who will nurture their members in clear, biblical principles. The strategy for this movement will come from trusted voices that are currently emerging from regional to national prominence.
The religious right is changing in terms of race, gender and age. Although the numbers are difficult to quantify, there is an enormous groundswell of millions of younger, multicultural converts. These converts may well prove to be more predictable than the values voters of the last few years.
Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.