Everywhere you turn, pundits and politicos are writing the obituary of the religious Right. We are told in ponderous articles that the movement is fracturing, splintering, losing momentum, losing heart, stumbling, fighting among themselves, and on the verge of falling into irrelevance. Is it true? Or is this wishful thinking on behalf of those who have always despised what the religious Right stands for? I’m not a betting man, but I am pretty sure it’s the latter.
Today, the religious Right continues to mature as a movement and grow in its influence in American politics. Few other constituencies can match it for size and, more importantly, unity. But the missing story that perhaps only people like myself can see, because we are in the trenches and on the front lines every day leading church services and meeting with the movement’s leaders, is that the religious Right is not falling apart. Rather, 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.
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.
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.