Falwell gone, evangelical movement alive and well

Posted: May 21, 2007 12:04 AM
Falwell gone, evangelical movement alive and well

The Rev. Jerry Falwell's passing seems to have traumatized the mainstream liberal press. Absent in its coverage of the event is even the normal pretense of objectivity.

Take your choice. According to Newsweek, Falwell's "influence on American politics has been vastly overstated." His role, the article concludes, in the rise of the Christian right was not "significant." And according to Time, evangelical Christians are now moving into a big non-ideological tent, where all points of view are welcomed, and the evangelical movement has "left Falwell behind."

I think a brief visitation with facts and reality might be in order here.

The point of the Moral Majority, which Falwell launched in 1979, was to transform a politically dormant Christian evangelical universe into a political force.

Not significant?

Today, approximately one of every four American voters is a Christian evangelical.

We've had over recent weeks three debates of presidential contenders -- two Republican, one Democratic. Despite the fact that massive entitlement programs are bankrupting the country, that health-care costs are going out the roof, that public education is in bad shape, abortion is among the main domestic issues that these candidates are being grilled on.

The Pew Research Center reported last year on attitudes on religion and politics.

In response to the survey question "Should houses of worship express views on politics?" 51 percent responded affirmatively. However, 63 percent of white evangelicals and 68 percent of black Protestants said "yes."

Assessing Falwell's influence, the Pew Center's executive vice president, Paul Taylor, wrote: "... (I)f the key goal of his movement was to encourage a formerly apolitical group to become politically engaged -- and to do so in part through the guidance of organized religion -- then he leaves behind a powerful legacy."

According to Pew Center senior fellow John Green, "Falwell changed the way that evangelicals think about political activity."

What about allegations that the evangelical movement is no longer the movement of Jerry Falwell? According to Time and others, the edge is disappearing and more evangelicals are buying into the so-called "progressive" agenda.

Now remember that "progressive" is today's code word for "liberal." Suggesting that this increasingly defines today's evangelicals tells us more about the wishful hallucinations of left-wing journalists than reality.

In last year's elections, supposedly a case in point for the great transformation in our political landscape, 72 percent of white evangelicals voted Republican and accounted for 22 percent of the overall vote.

Not exactly a sign of a great evangelical surge to the left. What we did see is a drop of a couple percentage points in the Republican vote in this universe and a similar drop in turnout from the 2004 elections.

This tells us more about how evangelicals felt about the politicians they thought were representing them than them going wobbly on their own agenda.

When surveyed on issues, 45 percent of evangelical voters responded that values issues, such as abortion and same-sex marriage, were what mattered most to them, and 59 percent said these issues were "extremely important."

Sure, there was migration to the Democrats in 2006 in the overall churchgoing universe. But evangelicals -- the one in four American voters Falwell helped awaken -- are unchanged and conservative.

If a revolution is waiting to happen, it is among black voters. And it is in the direction of conservatism. More and more blacks are getting it that the root of the problems in their communities flow from values -- family breakdown, promiscuity, drugs, crime and education.

Whereas nine in 10 blacks still vote for Democrats, in the 2006 Pew survey, 19 percent of black voters said they considered themselves part of the "religious right."

Anyone tempted to buy the rhetoric of Democrats that yes, they too are the party of values, should look again at the recent Supreme Court decision on partial-birth abortion.

This is simply the murder of a living, partially birthed child. The Supremes weighed in rightly and banned it. Seven out of 10 Americans say the procedure should be illegal. The leading Republican presidential candidates endorsed the court's decision. The three leading Democratic candidates condemned it.

When we read that most Americans are unhappy about the direction of the country, that candidates of both parties express concern about a "coarsening" of our culture, that people are sick of foulmouthed shock jocks and the violent nihilism of rap, there's a message.

That message is that Falwell helped point this country in a direction of decency in which it needs, and wants, to go.

Jerry Falwell is gone now. The evangelical movement he helped launch is alive and well.