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.
The movement was most unwelcome by the Left, and from the start the media and liberal Christians busied themselves writing the religious Right’s obituary. With almost predictable regularity, like the paper they were written on, headlines were recycled heralding the so-called waning influence of evangelicals and their splintering unity. With each election cycle, hope sprung anew in editorial rooms and political back offices that this would be the year the religious Right’s strength would begin to fade. Some observers even had the audacity to actively explore what American politics would look like once the religious Right was gone.
Today there is a new twist to this old trend of prematurely burying the enemy. Lately, we see a new level of cooperation between various members of the press and liberal Christians, who are allies of convenience against the religious Right. Liberal Christians are stepping up efforts to crack the unity of evangelicals by sponsoring antiwar rallies, fomenting debate about the environment, and becoming increasingly harsh and public in their criticism of the various views and tactics of the religious Right. Liberal Christians are perfectly welcome to express their views as loudly as they wish and to frame their arguments from a biblical point of view. This kind of debate can be healthy. But the press, seeing an opportunity to chip away at the unified foundation of the religious Right, is clearly slanting their coverage to use the efforts of liberal Christians like a battering ram.
The media readily allows the Christian Left to claim scriptural authority based upon selective reading of the Bible. But the failure of the Christian Left to gather any noticeable momentum, other than with East Coast media outlets, points to a fundamental difference it has with the Christian Right: many constituents of the Christian Left reject the Bible as authoritative, meaning every opinion and idea is just as valid as the next. Try building a coalition on that framework! By contrast, the mortar that has kept the religious Right together and strong is the agreement that, come what may, the Word of God is infallible and inerrant, making it the final word on all matters of life and policy.
Let me be clear again that I believe those on the Left have every right to speak out, and I welcome the public discourse over the important issues of our day. I have no doubt that during the next election some valid positions will be put forth by the Christian Left. But it’s also true that their goal, at least in part, is to raise doubts and questions about specific social debates, such as global warming and the war, in an effort to weaken the heart and fracture the unity of the religious Right on core moral issues. And I have little doubt that some in the media will continue to be complicit in this goal.
Thankfully, there are clear, biblical answers to each cultural concern and policy, and I have written a new book with Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council that addresses the seven most important policy and cultural issues facing America. This book, Personal Faith, Public Policy, is available in bookstores everywhere and online at amazon.com.
Premature death notices? Some continue to live in a world of fantasy. The religious Right is alive and well…and you are here to prove it.