The “Marginalization” of the Christian Right

This week I received a funding solicitation email from a conservative Christian organization with the following justification for their plea for support:

. . . the church is being marginalized by a culture that is increasingly accepting homosexuality and same-sex marriage . . .

While I don’t want to deny that groups such as this are feeling marginalized, I argue that what is being experienced is not marginalization, but the repercussions of new reality of their influence and dominance on larger cultural conversations and direction setting. Society is no longer willing to sit idly by and allow the conservative Christian view to be the unquestioned social moral compass and other people of faith are no longer willing to abdicate the Christian voice to this particular narrative.

This is not marginalization, it’s called accountability.

Change is hard for anyone, so in some ways I do feel for folks who are experiencing change that feels so much out of their control. That said, it is one thing to have compassion and understanding for a person as they feel the decline in their sphere of influence and hold on power, but is quite another thing to respond to that feeling in a way that validates the realities of the power and influence that still remains. After all, as you can see from the map, more and more states are bannin same-sex marriage, so to cry marginalization rings a bit hollow.

Sociologists and pundits could argue the meaning of marginalization, but when I think about marginalized people, I think of those who are kept in a cycle of poverty because of predatory financial practices, those who have poor educational opportunities because of the state of public education, anyone for whom their civil rights are determined by a majority vote and so on and so on.When I think of marginalization, I do not think of religious communities who are simply having their religious views challenged, are no longer able to dictate moral social norms and are just plain loosing influence.

Now if, as a country, we vote to pass a Constitutional Amendment banning preachers like Pastoral Charles Worley, it might feel great, but this would be one step towards marginalizing conservative Christians. Thankfully, we live in a country where people can speak their mind, no matter how distasteful and dangerous I may find it. They must deal with the consequences of their words, but they can still say them. Ban the ability for a preacher to speak his/her your mind in a house of worship that and then maybe, just maybe,the marginalization banner can be raised.

Call it “losing influence,” call it a “soul-losing moral defeat,” but don’t call it “marginalization.”

  • Jel3198

             I find it a great tragedy that far to many think the religious right are what all believers are.  My son, who’s a Geology PhD candidate tell me it keeps many scientist’s minds closed against Christianity. 
           I found that literalist version a major problem when I attended college and became involved in many conflicts with Sunday School teachers.   If it wasn’t for my parents who lived the life instead of preaching their bias I might have been driven away.

  • Bruce Reyes-Chow

    Joseph. I think you raise a good point, but do you not think that the rise of power and influence of say, the Tea Party, as well as the Republican primary, has lifted the Conservative Christian voice up to a point of visibility that it has not had in some time? I would like to think you are correct, but I believe that the election results do speak differently.

  • Joseph

    “Society is no longer willing to sit idly by and allow the conservative Christian view to be the unquestioned social moral compass and other people of faith are no longer willing to abdicate the Christian voice to this particular narrative.” If by “society”, you mean a very vocal minority which has the ear of the mainstream media, then I would agree. If you mean a majority of the general population, then I’d say it’s wishful thinking on your part. 
    Most conservative Christians are people who go about their lives quietly. And while it may serve an ideological purpose to cite extremists like Pastor Charles L. Worley, I think you know the large majority of conservative Christians reject views like that. But those people wouldn’t serve as attractive examples or be much fun to read about, so you don’t hear much about us… except when election results are tallied.

  • Allforfunnplay

    I originally wrote this in the SFGate section.

    The laws in Leviticus in the Old Testament were handed down from Bronze Age people and were later written down in the early Iron Age.LeviticusSome of the anti-gay arguments by the far right Christians come from the laws in the book of Leviticus. Some of those laws seem silly (mixing fabric types?). But others make sense in the context of those societies. Many of the very strict laws on women, marriage, etc… have to do with maintaining set family structures. Remember there was no birth control so having to deal with additional sexual partners and their offspring could be considered problematic for a society built around Clans of families (remember most of these people were mostly nomadic herders or farmers). There were some good laws IMO like the having to keep 10% of one’s farmland crops available to anyone that came along and was hungry. New Covenant But for the Christians the Leviticus arguments are moot. Because either Supercesionism or New Covenant theology basically overwrites what went in the Old Testament. It’s one of the primary reasons why Christians aren’t required to be circumcised or to observe the Sabbath. (which is sort of odd IMO since Jesus followed much of the 1st Century Jewish customs). But my point is that not even (most) modern Jews strictly follow the laws in Leviticus. The Original Followers of JesusThe Apostles and all the other followers of Jesus were the poor mostly rural Jews in Galilee and Judea. I think he took on some Gentile followers in his time (but I’m not sure) but if he did, they were probably “Righteous Gentiles” that would be Jewish approved Gentiles (look up Noahide Laws). My point being is that Jesus pretty much stuck to preaching to Jews and Jewlike Gentiles. He wasn’t out to covert the Romans or anyone else and he certainly wasn’t going to tell them how to live. Jesus was a Jew and his messages were pretty much meant for his poor Jewish followers. 

    The Apostle PaulAs for Paul….there are some that believe…especially from just looking at the historical/biblical events from a non-religious point of view…Paul to be sort of a Usurper of Christianity. well I find it hard to believe that so much stock is put into a guy that NEVER HEARD JESUS PREACH WHILE HE WAS ALIVE. The Bible is filled with all sorts of odd mystical/supernatural stories. But Saul comes along and simply becomes Christian because he sees Jesus’s Ghost? Then Paul decides to go off and preach to the Gentiles. The other Apostles, you know the ones that actually followed Jesus around and hear him preach and…according to the Bible…experienced his resurrection…..when the meet Paul are like wtf??? Paul’s Gentile mission catches the them off guard. Remember James the Just is put in charge of the Church of Jerusalem…so he’s sort of in charge. Paul has to go answer to him and the other Apostles and has to undergo a Jewish cleansing ritual. He get’s into a tiff with Peter in Antioch over eating with the Gentiles. The Rock (now that would be funny to have Dwayne Johnson portray the Apostle Peter) backs down in that argument…and eventually relents on holding to many of the Jewish laws and accepting the Gentiles (I’m sure all the Gentile men followers were happy about that). Anyway, my point is that Jesus focused on preaching to Jews in the areas around Judea. Paul takes it upon himself to preach to everyone else. Paul’s Message in Romans & General Middle Eastern CultureThere are some that say that his message against homosexuality in Romans is taken in context more of a criticizim of the Roman culture which of course was the dominant and competing culture and religion through out the near east and the mediterannian. The modern official position by many of the Jewish sects is that there is nothing in their religion against homosexuality. However, I’m betting that if you go to Israel today that it wouldn’t be very widely accepted because the general middle eastern culture is pretty much homosexuality. Some of this undoubtedly the islamic influence in the area but I would be willing to bet that anti-homosexual tolerance in the middle east goes back before islam. So if Jesus isn’t quoted as directly commenting on homosexuality. And his message was meant for jews and his genitle followers. Why can’t the Christians simply accept his teachings are only meant for them and leave everyone else alone? 

  • http://twitter.com/drew_psu Drew Tatusko

    “the repercussions of new reality of their influence and dominance on larger cultural conversations and direction setting”

    I think this is sociologically valid. When a group that has had power gets challenged it will tend to assert its distinctiveness even more. This was clearly evidenced in the last 100 years when fundamentalism emerged out of the Scopes trial in the 1920′s. In fact, it can also be argued that Christianity as a whole has lost a specific market share of influence even though we hear these loud assertive voices everywhere due to a small group of noisy people with big financial backers.

    What we need to note is that there are two spikes in church attendance: the largest in the 1950′s and the smaller “echo” in the 1980′s. Everywhere else attendance has been around 30% overall. That’s a small amount of committed people. However, the fundamentalist right has ALWAYS been a marginal group. They represent about 20% of Christians who call themselves “conservative” according to a recent study by Greeley & Hout.

    Measuring influence is more difficult, but it is safe to say that Protestant influence and warring over social issues is still prominent. The Catholic view has emerged as a major player, but in the political sphere is still a buttress to the evangelical presence.

  • Shopping Account

    So the Christian fundies put all their chips on fanning the flames of hatred against gays and lesbians and now, when some of their own are seeing the error of their ways, they cry “PERSECUTION!!!”?

    Boo hoo! Cry me a river!

  • erins1911

    Very good point.  Societal change generally requires a shift in the balance of power flowing from commonly unquestioned influence.

  • Suitntied

     Why are you reading fairy tales that were made up by desert dwellers 4000 years ago.  You are an idiot!

  • Janet Bohren

    I have just listened to Diana Butler Bass describe what she sees happening in American society today (see her  May 24 Pantheos blog where she is interviewed by WeltonGaddy). Your description of conservative Christians feeling marginalized fits what she sees happening in society that she interprets as an awakening; i.e. as you point out many Americans  are no longer taking their moral compass from conservative Christians, they are experiencing their own paths to faith.  We are in a time where the conservatives are fighting losing their control and power, as the times change. These are symptoms of the “awakening” Butler Bass describes.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/breyeschow/ Bruce Reyes-Chow

    Okay. the whole Scripture passage fight usually leads nowhere, but I might be willing if you can help me understand how your approach Scripture. I do not know your tradition so what’s your perspective on the Hebrew Bible versus the NT? How do you take into historical, contextual, text, authorship etc. into consideration?  

    For example, please let me know how you look at these two passages: 
    Colossians 3:22, “Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord.” and 1 Corinthians 14:34, 34, “Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission,as the law says.”

    How you respond to these will help me to know whether the an open conversation about Scripture is worth either of our time.

  • http://twitter.com/Kairanie Kiran Spees

    William, I think you have missed the point of this particular post.  Bruce does not advocate either permitting or banning same-sex marriage here (I will not speak for him on his actual position which he may have stated somewhere else).  He was merely citing it as an example of what people are talking about.

  • William B. Reeser

    You can “nit pick” at words all you like, (marginalization v. losing influence, etc. ) but the sadness of the matter is, to say the Bible supports homosexual marriage or that Jesus would think homosexaul marriage is a good thing, is just Biblically WRONG!  Please read Romans Chapter 1. 


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